Water for Flowers

Its waters covering about 50 square miles5 of Kenya‚ Great Rift Valley, Lake Naivasha (elevation 6,200 feet) sits 62 miles north of Nairobi. Communities thrived along its shores 4,000 years ago. The Maasai people long grazed their cattle along the lake‚ banks.6

Without water, there would be no flowers. Yet, its unsustainable use by the farms could drain this life giving liquid out of Kenya‚ rivers and Lake Naivasha, harming the ecosystem and a large part of the economy. But the water does not just disappear. Instead, it is trans-ferred to the flower and fruit crops and then exported, largely to the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe.

This global phenomenon is called the virtual water trade. This is the practice of using your water to produce or grow what you then ex-port, effectively meaning that you are exporting water out of local watersheds ‚virtually.” Close to 20 percent of all daily domestic water use is exported out of watersheds around the world every day and is a major cause of water depletion. In this case, Europe is trying to save its own water because the rose growing business is water intensive. But in protecting its own water supplies, Europe is destroying the watersheds and futures of Africa.

According to Severino Maitima, director of the Ewaso Ngiro River water authority: ‚The flower companies are exporting our water. A flower is 90 percent water. We are one of the driest countries in the world and we are exporting water to one of the wettest.” 11

The overuse of water has taken its toll. Scientists have concluded that Naivasha‚ water levels are 10 feet lower than what is healthy.12

Prior to the proliferation of the flower farms and the subsequent decline in water levels, Lake Naivasha was ‚one of the world‚ top ten sites for birds, with more than 350 recorded species. It was also renowned for its sparkling clear water and the papyrus plants and water lilies that could be found at its edges. Much of this plant life has disappeared, eaten by the crayfish or destroyed by the grazing animals that trample it as they seek the receding waters.” And in the past two years, the number of hippos has dropped by more than 25 percent because of decreased water levels. There were 1,500 hippos in 2004, but their numbers fell to 1,100 in 2006.13

David Harper, a professor at the University of Leicester and a 17,year leader of environmental surveys for the non,profit organization Earthwatch, decries the environmental situation in Naivasha: “Almost everybody in Europe who has eaten Kenyan beans or Kenyan strawberries, and gazed at Kenyan roses, has bought Naivasha water. It will become a turgid, smelly pond with impoverished communities eking out a living along bare shores. The unsustainable extraction of water for agriculture, horticulture, urban and residential water supplies is sucking the lake dry. As the lake becomes smaller and shallower it will become warmer, fueling the growth of microscopic algae. It is only a matter of time before the lake becomes toxic.” 1