Bal­anc­ing act

Kenyan au­thor­i­ties are caught be­tween re­viv­ing a dy­ing lake and en­sur­ing liveli­hood to farm­ers liv­ing in its catch­ment

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - MUCHEMI WACHIRA

in its catch­ment

FOR THREE decades, James Wainana has grown maize and veg­eta­bles along Ol’ Bolos­sat—the only lake in the fer­tile Cen­tral High­lands of Kenya. But to­day he is no longer sure of in­vest­ing in his four-hectare (ha) farm­land. Like him, more than 0.56 mil­lion farm­ers, who live in the catch­ment area of the lake, are anx­ious be­cause of a plan to con­serve the lake.

In June 2014, Waithaka Mwangi, gover­nor of the Nyandarua County, an­nounced the lake will be de­vel­oped as a tourist desti­na­tion. The rev­enue earned from tourism would be spent to re­vive the lake, which is a habi­tat for hip­popota­mus and many birds, and the source of river Ewaso Nyiro, the third long­est in Kenya (see ‘Land of beauty and bounty’, p32). The govern­ment be­lieves Ol’ Bolos­sat has de­graded due to a sharp in­crease in hu­man pop­u­la­tion and unchecked farm­ing—Nyandarua is known as the bread bas­ket of Kenya. Farm­ers di­vert wa­ter from streams and springs flow­ing into the lake to ir­ri­gate crops. Con­tin­ued tilling of land is silt­ing the lake, while pes­ti­cides are pol­lut­ing the wa­ter. Farm­ers’ live­stock also com­pete for pas­tures with hip­pos.

The tourism project re­quires the county govern­ment to ac­quire farm­land and plots en­croach­ing upon the catch­ment and ri­par­ian ar­eas of the lake, which is pro­tected un­der the Wa­ter Act, 2002. But the au­thor­i­ties are not sure which plots to ac­quire and how to re­set­tle the farm­ers. This is be­cause the 43-km-long lake is yet to be gaz-

Farm­ers' live­stock com­pete with hip­popota­mus for pas­tures around lake Ol' Bolos­sat

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