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FLOWERS ARE INNOCENT

In November 2007, I was contracted by a prominent international magazine to do an in depth news feature on the impact of flower farming in lake Naivasha and its environs.

This was years after I had published what I –an armchair environment journalist then- thought was the gospel truth about what ails the lake.

I was elated with what I believe was a “golden” opportunity to prove my long held hypothesis that flower farms do, indeed, wreak havoc on the lake and its environs. I was also fully armed with a detailed report done earlier by a human rights organization.

A professional photojournalist accompanied me and we had to dig deeper than I had earlier thought to prove my hypothesis.

We started by seeking the Kenya flower council for two reasons-to interview its CEO, Ms Jane Ngige, and to request the cooperation of, and access to, big –time flower concerns.

We started off by hearing out those who have always harboured the greatest beef with local flower industry.

They include a number of local fishermen, some residents of settlements such as Karagita, Kayole and Naivasha town, ex-workers of flower farms, members of Maasai community, and a retinue of NGO representatives, as well as freelance activists.

From this lot, we received long jeremiads about the untold havoc Naivasha’s flower industry had caused the water resources and the entire ecosystem.

Then we went on to listen to the other side of the story by hearing out officials of umbrella bodies such as Lake Naivasha Riparian Association and the management in a sample of the farms.

Many in this group were so apprehensive of the nature of our inquiry that they asked me to send to them a set of questions in advance.

Some of flower farms did not want to give us access to every corner of their facilities while some, like the giant Oserian, allowed us the freedom to tour and photograph whatever we wanted, and even arranged to have a panel of experts address every question we raised, as well as the concern by local people.

At some point, we collected and shipped samples of water flowing in one of the drains that emptied in to the lake and shipped into Germany for testing, hoping to prove that the farm emptied pesticide-laden waste water into the lake.

The tests turned out to be negative. Then we visited the third and final group that consisted of smallholder farmers whose modest concerns are lined up along the entire course of the lake’s tributaries such as Gilgil, Turasha and Malewa.

Here, we found people who farms all the way to the banks of the rivers and who were then not regulated whatsoever by any local or national water-governance institution.

We couldn’t help but conclude that an unspecified amount of the agro chemicals by most of the small-holders farmers must have found its way into tributaries before landing into the lake.

And from numerous publications, we learned that a big amount of the lake’s water is used up by local hotels, the Kenya Generating Company and that water from River Malewa is diverted to Nakuru County- which is not part of the Lake Naivasha Basin.

The Naivasha Municipal Council operates a dilapidated sewerage system that results in raw sewage finding its way into the lake.

I concluded that it would be inaccurate to direct the entire blame on one group of people operating there and that journalists would be wise not to listen to just one side of the story because there is a long running blame game in which nobody owns up.

When all is said and done, Lake Naivasha remains a shared resource and different players will have to come together, own up on whatever they have been up to, and engage in decisive actions to support initiatives aimed at saving the lake.

By John Mbaria

Mr. Mbaria is a consultant writer on environmental issues (gatumbaria@gmail.com)

Daily Nation Wednesday May 23, 2012- Opinion- page 13.

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