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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

People and organizations are working to save Lake Naivasha, but they are running up against the reality that agricultural expansion in Naivasha and elsewhere in Kenya is filling the government‚ coffers and pushing economic growth.

In 1995, Lake Naivasha was designated a protected site under the Ramsar Convention, formally known as the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. It was created in 1973 to preserve wetlands as habitats for wildfowl, but has since grown into a program to ensure the sustainable use and conservation of wetlands worldwide.27

While such sites are required to have management plans to ensure that they are used wisely and protected, “the Ramsar designation yields only a small amount of legal power, insufficient to work as a deterrent to those who would, for example, seek to develop or purchase riparian land, or do damage to Naivasha‚ catchment.” 28

A director of one of the flower farms in Naivasha acknowledged that the lake could dry out due to uncontrolled use of its waters unless the government stops issuing water permits to farms: “There is no legal framework guiding the use of water from Lake Naivasha. The flower farms, through the Lake Naivasha Growers Association and the Lake Naivasha Riparian Association, have drafted their own self-regulation codes for responsible water use. Over the years, however, environmental lobbyists have raised concern over the unmoni-tored use of water from the lake by flower farms, and the uncontrolled sinking of boreholes” to get water.29

There are growing concerns that the success of Kenya‚ flower industry, whose earnings are estimated at $350 million annually, has blinded the authorities to the reality of the competition from Ethiopia and other countries that are trying to lure away farms. Kenya dominates flower export to the world‚ largest market — the European Union. “Kenya has commanded a 25 percent market share since 2000But emerging suppliers such as Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Uganda are trying to promote themselves as good spots for foreign investors.” 30

Josphat Ngonyo, director of the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, is dissatisfied with current conservation efforts: “Government may not know issues on the ground or it is just turning a deaf ear” because of the farms economic clout. He notes that the first management plan has not been implemented, largely because the flower companies went to court to block it.31

He says that communities must be involved in an environmental impact assessment that informs the creation of a new management plan. But this time, the plan must be followed.

Sustainable alternatives to the flower farms include empowering people to take up small-scale organic farming and to promote eco-tourism.

“Lake Naivasha is like a time bomb,” Ngonyo says. “If nothing is done, it will be too late. We need to act now to save the lake.” 32