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Two WWF-Kenya staff members discuss the rewards and challenges of bringing conservation to rural communities.
Nancy Njenga is a technical officer for monitoring and evaluation based in Naivasha. She has been with WWF since 2006.

Peter Muigai started in August 2011 as a community mobilization officer in Naivasha.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Nancy: When I work with communities and I see them grow and change the way they use their land. And I hear the stories they tell me: “Nancy, the training you have given us has helped us move this far. We appreciate you and WWF.” That makes me feel satisfied with my job.

Peter: After training on soil and water conservation, and crop and livestock production, to see a farmer adopt those technologies we promote and improve his livelihood – that is really satisfying. To hear stories of families who have more income and more food; they really appreciate what these interventions have done for them. This is the most exciting part for me.

Q: What are the biggest challenges in your work?
Nancy: At times, we have early adopters in projects. But there are also those communities that say, “We’re not sure. We’re not going to try it. We’re just going to wait.” So the biggest challenge is when you try to explain the concept and the benefits, yet you don’t see action. I ask myself, “Am I not doing the right thing? How can I do this better to help them understand?”

Q: How do you overcome that resistance?
Peter: I try as much as possible to use the early adopters to train others who are resistant. One person can usually mobilize his or her neighbors – farmers listen to one another, especially when one is having success. This is more sustainable, because people are not being forced to adopt changes. They do so willingly, and when it comes from the heart, the results are seen faster.

Q: How can conservation improve people’s lives?

Nancy: There’s a clear link between conservation and livelihoods. Take the example of planting grass strips on steep farms; the soil doesn’t erode, and when the farmers use manure and fertilizer, it stays in the soil. They retain the nutrients, increase their yields and get more money. Then they can use the grass fodder for their own cows, and sell extra to other farmers as well. They earn, and their cows give more milk.

Peter: When we first came here, we asked people how things used to be 10 or 20 years ago. They said that harvests were good, and they could predict the seasons. But now the environment has changed. Many of the forests are gone.

Since the WWF project started, you see farms with trees on their land. People without trees can spend four or five hours three days a week looking for firewood. Think of the time wasted. They could be working on their farm or maybe doing some other kind of business. Of course, it can also be unsafe spending that time in the forest. So when they have fuel wood on their farm, those risks are minimized.

Q: Final thoughts?
Nancy: Since WWF came into this area, a lot has happened. One, in terms of institutional cohesiveness; you seen now institutions that never used to sit together working toward the goal of conservation, toward the goal of improving livelihoods for communities. When this project started, the Water Resource Management Authority had just been established. It didn’t have resources, it didn’t have enough staff, but WWF supported them to reach out to the communities, to understand the Water Act, to set policy to ensure water resources are well managed. So we have seen institutions move from one level to the next. We have seen the private sector get involved and work with upstream farmers – this never happened before. We have seen a great change in six years.

Nancy Njenga (left), technical officer for monitoring and evaluation based in Naivasha, Kenya, shares a laugh with project participant Zaineb Malicha.

© WWF / Simon Rawles

Peter Muigai, WWF community mobilization officer in Naivasha, Kenya, chats with project participant Margaret Wanjiru Mundia.

© WWF / Simon Rawles

Trees for livelihoods

A water resource users' association near Naivasha, Kenya, distributes tree seedlings to farmers. ... 
© WWF / Simon Rawles

A water resource users' association near Naivasha, Kenya, distributes tree seedlings to farmers. Trees help improve water quality by retaining soil and reducing runoff.