NAIROBI— In a unique pairing of business interests and conservation, a new water fund is launching in Kenya to better-protect Nairobi's main source of water -- the Tana River. By investing in conservation, big corporations, including Coca-Cola and East African Breweries, hope to reap big rewards - a possible win-win for business and the environment.
Jane Kabugi, 68, is readying for her planting season. For five years, she was a subsistence farmer - consuming all she produces.
But that has changed in the last year, with new techniques to produce surplus food she sells at the market.
She is one of some 5,000 small-scale farmers located in the upper Tana River area who benefitted from a three-month training course given by the Water Fund on improved agricultural techniques, such as terracing so as to prevent soil erosion.
Kabugi says water is her main concern.
“Water is a big challenge because like now if I had water you can see all this would have been green but because of lack of water, plants tend to die,” she said.
Soil erosion and low water supplies impact businesses, farmers and communities - increasing costs.
And that is why 10 companies, led by the Nature Conservancy, created the Nairobi Water Fund - to protect the watershed and catchment areas along rivers that supply water to approximately nine million people in Nairobi.
One key focus is the Thika Dam - which harnesses water from rivers around ensuring a steady supply of water to residents of the capital.
With improved agriculture skills practiced by Kabugi and other farmers, less sedimentation is deposited into the river. This drop in sedimentation reduces the cost of cleaning the water once it gets to the Thika Dam.
Coca-Cola is one of the companies involved and contributed $150,000 towards the fund. Part of the money went into training the farmers.
Each month the beverage company’s plant in Nairobi uses approximately 30 million cubic meters of water.
Bob Okello, the public affairs manager at Coca Cola, says conserving water catchment makes business sense to the company.
“Close to 10-15 million of our consumers are touched along this water catchment territory," he said. "So the people who live in Nairobi, the industries, you know all these guys depend on this water. And we think there’s a responsibility on our part to participate in conserving this important catchment.”
For Jane Kabugi and other farmers these gains are already translating into greater community returns and increased yields.