The Kenyan government and international environmental group WWF this week launched a new payment for environmental services program in Bomet County. The program aims to protect the Mara River.
A number of small-scale tea cultivators and other farmers in the area use the river water for irrigation.
The payment for environmental services program will provide these farmers with materials and inputs to improve degraded land in the upper catchment areas of the Mara River.
The aim is to increase agricultural productivity by preventing soil erosion and introducing improved farming methods, which in turn will improve local communities’ livelihoods.
Some of the materials being provided to the farmers include improved varieties of Napier grass and sweet potato vines, which can be used as fodder for cattle as well as food for the farmers themselves.
Speaking at the launch, WWF Kenya Conservation Manager Dr. Jared Bosire said the program so far involved 300 small-scale farmers, who have been encouraged to adopt better land management practices including terracing and planting cover crops to reduce erosion.
“These farmers are now aware that their activities upstream impact the Mara River’s water quality downstream,” local media quoted him as saying.
The program will also benefit the Tenwek Mission Hospital and the Tiranga and Stegro tea factories, which depend on the Mara River and its tributaries. These institutions have incurred significant costs as a result of pollution due to poor land management practices upstream. They have had to de-silt dams on the river and purify water before use.
The payment for environmental services approach was piloted earlier this year in three sub-catchments of Chepkositonik River -- the Matarmat, Bilelga, and Keteremo areas.
Before launching the Mara River program, WWF Kenya carried out a number of studies looking at hydrology, cost-benefit analysis, livelihoods and policy and legal implications. The group wanted to build a business case for implementing this financial mechanism.
Local Water Resource Users Associations (WRUAs), supported by WWF and partners, will monitor the impact of the program on both local farmers and the water quality of the river.