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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

Isaac Ouma Oloo was born in the Naivasha community after his parents moved from Lake Victoria in the 1970s to take advantage of the thriving fishing industry. But by early the following decade, fishing succumbed to a growing number of flower farms. He has witnessed thousands of laborers and their families arriving to work in the greenhouses and processing plants. The population rose from 7,000 in 1969 to some 300,000 in 2007.15 In attracting so many people, the international companies have ecologically burdened Lake Naivasha. “We have too many people with too little infrastructure,” Ouma Oloo says. ‚They are using and polluting water to live. They are poaching to get meat. They are venturing farther and farther to get wood and charcoal for making fires. One 50-year-old tree can give about 50 bags of charcoal. A family of four or five needs one bag of charcoal. And there has been no replanting of trees. So people go to the banks of the rivers that feed into Lake Victoria for their wood. This is destabilizing the water table.” 16

Oloo‚ assessment of the effects of deforestation on nearby lakes conforms with that of Daniel Olago, a geology lecturer at the University of Nairobi and co,author of a United Nations Environment Program report calling for increasing fines for polluters of Lake Victoria: “Another major problem is the amount of sediment going into the lake because of deforestation from people who need firewood.” 17

Even managers in Kenya‚ floriculture and horticulture industry, the country‚ second largest exporter and driver of its economic expansion, see looming environmental problems from overuse of water, overpopulation, and pollution.

“It’s going to be a challenge to maintain the environment of the lake,” admitted Sean Finlayson, roses manager at flower giant Oserian. “It’s going to get bigger and bigger. The population around the lake have no sewage facilities, people are washing their clothes in the lake. They’re all coming because of the flower farms.” 18