Kenyan farmers ready to start with soil conservation practices


Enough funds are now available to help 400,000 smallholder farmers with soil and water management in the Tana River Basin in south-east Kenya. Participants came to this conclusion at the Green Water Credits workshop run by ISRIC in Nyeri last September.

The farmers in this mountainous upland area grow coffee, tea, maize and millet. Soil and water conservation practices introduced here will improve water availability in the lower areas, where the water is used for electricity generation, urban water provision and irrigation. ISRIC has conducted several scenario- and pilot studies since 2006, and these have shown that soil and water management reduces erosion, increases ground water recharge and regulates river base flows. Now the Kenyan stakeholders are organized and funds are available, work can start on implementing the findings.

Green Water Fund

The Green Water Fund for these upland farmers has already acquired 60 million USD from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and from private water users. The fund will be managed by the Water Services Trust Fund and the Equity Bank, one of Kenya’s largest banks. Individual farmers can take out a loan to improve their production; communities can obtain a grant for soil and water conservation practices such as mulching, conservation tillage, tied ridges and terraces. The International Fertilizer Development Cooperation (IFDC) will help to set up export chains, for instance so that millet farmers’ crops can reach Indian supermarkets. ‘A narrow focus on soil and water management will not be sustainable’, explains program coordinator Sjef Kauffman from ISRIC. ‘We have to make sure that these farmers can also improve their income.’


The private funds come from the Kenya Electricity Generating Company Limited (KenGen) and the Nairobi Water Company. KenGen is very interested in the idea of paying upstream farmers to improve their soil and water management, as this will prevent soil erosion, which is the main cause of reservoirs silting up. And the five KenGen hydropower stations already have problems generating enough electricity in the dry months (June-October).

Higher production

 According to the ISRIC studies, the benefits of better soil and water management far outstrip the costs. Even at just 20 percent coverage of the 400,000 hectares of upland, annual downstream benefits for hydropower facilities and urban water provision would amount to anywhere between 6 and 48 million USD annually, whereas costs would be in the range of 0.5-4.3 million USD. Other benefits will be higher production for upstream farmers, carbon sequestration and reduced flood damage in the Tana delta where the mangroves are particularly vulnerable.

ISRIC is preparing similar Green Water Funds for river basins in Morocco, Algeria, Burundi and China (the upper area of the Yangtze River, 1000 kilometres from Beijing). And Kenya will probably get a follow-up: Sjef Kauffman hopes that the Dutch institutes can continue to train the Kenyan stakeholders and that they can monitor the effects of the implementation phase, using innovative methods such as remote sensing and GIS.