Kenya: Fairer access to water through the Mara River Water Users Association (WWF-Kenya)

| October 25, 2010

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The Mara River runs through Kenya and Tanzania and is a vital source of water for the region. Some years back, farmers living along the river noticed that water levels were dropping. Studies confirmed this. During dry periods, conflicts over water use were common.

Small-scale farmers in Kenya and Tanzania shared the Mara River with many competing users. These included large scale plantations, the mining industry in Tanzania, the Masai Mara and Serengeti wildlife-protected areas, small-scale fishing activities, and urban and rural domestic water users. Further environmental problems were caused by unsustainable farming practices, loss of forests and pollution from urban areas. Then, in 2005, the enactment of Kenya’s Water Act allowed communities to form water users associations, and manage the water resources themselves.

The farmers welcomed the assistance of the World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF, in forming the Mara River Water Users Association. The association ensures that all stakeholders, including individual users, participate in managing their own water resources.

The association is now the custodian of the water resource. Where a conflict over water arises, the water users association arranges for the two conflicting parties to meet and resolve their issues. The national Water Resources Management Authority must seek the opinion of the association when issuing water permits. Water permits are often requested for commercial uses such as irrigation, water supply and even boreholes. The involvement of the water users association has allowed many potential conflicts and difficulties in water use and supply to be avoided.

As well as ensuring fair access to water, the association also supports community water conservation activities. Farmers have protected springs within their areas, and learned how to harvest rainwater. Some households have established woodlots, and use energy saving stoves. Farmers have also benefited from income-generating activities, such as raising dairy goats, keeping bees, and growing high value trees, with the support of WWF.

In July this year, the association was chosen as one of 25 winners of the Equator Prize. Mr. Joseph Kones is Secretary to the Mara River Water Users Association. He says, “I am extremely honoured our association has attained an international award. All this would not have been possible without WWF’s efforts to mentor and guide us.”