For Michael Kinyanjui Mbugua, the possibility of earning up to Sh60,000 a month from his farm on the slopes of the Aberdare range sounded like a dream that was too good to believe.
Three years ago, his two and a half acre piece of land hardly produced enough to feed his family.
“The slopping topography of my farm made it very difficult for me to cultivate anything meaningful, when rains come all the top soil would be swept away leaving the land bare,” said the farmer from Wanjohi, Nyandarua County.
Today, his farm is a model of what proper husbandry can do to increase yields while conserving the environment.
Besides growing potatoes, carrots, and onions, Mr Mbugua has introduced dairy cattle which he feeds on napier grass planted in strips to protect the farm from erosion. His two cows produce about 40kg of milk daily. He plans to add another cow soon.
But the transformation of his land could not have been possible without the introduction of the Payment for Environmental Services (PES) system.
Over the years flower farms on the shores of Lake Naivasha have borne the biggest blame for both polluting and over-exploiting lake waters. The lake is a key source of irrigation water for an extensive flower belt that contributes about three per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But now flower farm owners are giving back to the society by putting in place a system that will save the lake from pollution. Speaking during a PES members’ meeting recently Sarah Higgins, a prominent farmer in Naivasha, said the scheme was a good idea meant to bring together the two groups to save the lake from destruction.
“Farmers have been sensitised on proper husbandry and one thing that has been learnt is that even without fertiliser protecting the top soil from erosion helps improve yields for farmers.
PES is proving a worthwhile undertaking and that is why we would like to see more investors in large scale flower farms, hotels, and fishing join so that more farmers upstream can benefit and help in the conservation campaigns of this beautiful ecosystem,” she said.
Mr Mbugua is among a group of farmers in the Naivasha basin who have struck a working relationship with water users under the auspices of the Lake Naivasha Water Resources Users Association (LANAWRUA) .
He is one of the farmers who are piloting a market-based mechanism where land owners are rewarded by service beneficiaries in a programme that was initiated in 2008 by the World Wide Fund (WWF) and CARE International.
There are 765 farmers under the PES programme conserving a total of 107 acres of land that is also under cultivation.
WWF’s Lake Naivasha Landscape Project coordinator Robert Ndetei said farmers like Mr Mbugua undertake land use transformation that provides ecosystem services.
“For this service, they are rewarded financially by the beneficiaries. However, this linkage requires contractual agreements negotiated between the ecosystem stewards and beneficiaries making PES a benefit sharing scheme.
“In the case of Lake Naivasha, the ecosystem service derived from conservation work in the upper catchment is enough good quality water as it addresses the problem of siltation and eutrophication (dissolved nutrients) in the lake,” said Mr Ndetei.
He said that PES was taking the form of carbon trading, where upstream land owners are sellers while the various business concerns downstream are buyers of the services.
“Plans are underway to upscale the scheme internally and externally by engaging more buyers and sellers to increase the area covered for conservation,” said Mr Ndetei.
LANAWRUA has already come up with contribution thresholds for hoteliers based on commercial size (star rating) and for commercial users, irrigators, and ranchers. The rates are proposed based on daily water use.
A four and five star hotels pay Sh250,000 under the PES, while camps pay Sh80,000 annually. The funds go into the PES kitty and are used as incentives to participating land owners.
Mr Ndetei said that the money is given in the form of vouchers to purchase farm inputs and technical support to the farmers.
Although the biggest challenge is to attract more service buyers in order to increase the number of farmers under the programme, Mr Ndetei said that farmers who have benefited from the programme were taking up agroforestry, zero-grazing, and planting of fruit trees to increase their incomes.