In the wooded shoreline of Lake Naivasha, a couple of fishermen land their catch for the day. Behind them, into the waters, few vessels are tossing and swaying precariously under the weight of shoals of common carp fish and salmons as they sail ashore.
It is a pretty good day, reckoned the gaiety fishermen, except that the joy won’t last for long, since the fishing bay could soon be gone.
“Few weeks ago, Water Resources Management Authority (Warma) ran an advert on a local newspaper stating its plans to reduce the lake’s riparian land,” said Kennedy Waweru, a local fisherman. “The announcement is really troubling our hearts.”
On October 23, last year, the authority published a proposal in the Standard newspaper to review the riparian boundary of Lake Naivasha from 1892.8m above the sea level to 1888m.
The local fishermen, fish traders, boat and hotel owners, and members of Lake Naivasha riparian association are, however, strongly opposed to the move that will not only worsen human and hippo conflicts, but will also upset fisheries and destroy the lake’s biodiversity, which is crucial for tourism, they say.
It is ironical that while the government is fighting tooth and nail to regenerate rivers and restore riparian land to an extent of demolishing multimillion buildings along the riparian land, one of its key agencies is pulling in the opposite direction.
Bizarrely, the storm is brewing in the wake of a highly billed global meeting on blue economy hosted in Nairobi to champion sustainable use of the ocean, lakes and river resources only late last year.
Besides the move to ‘grab’ parts of the lakes’ riparian, Nation further established during a tour around the lake that dozens of small scale farmers and commercial flower farms constructed dykes on the banks of the lake.
Using gunny bags filled with soil, the farms have heaped the bags, one on top of the other into small walls to restrict water from moving into their farms, a move which experts say is dangerous for the lake’s ecology and fish breeding.
Covering over 140 square kilometres, Lake Naivasha, which derives its name from the local Maasai word Nai'posha meaning “receding waters” is also a Ramsar World Heritage Site and home to some of the world’s rare birds, other wildlife and plants.
The African fish eagle, one of Africa’s most loved birds known for its graceful aerial skills and distinctive plumage, and other cormorants, are some of the birds which not only nest in the woodlands around the lake, but are also major tourist attractions.
For a lake already choking under heavy pollution from flower farm irrigation, sewer dumping, overfishing, and invasive weeds, coupled with the impacts of climate change, any additional ecological pressure could choke it to near-death.
Lake Naivasha’s Riparian Association Manager Silas Wanjala notes that the riparian lands around any water body protect the lake from adjacent pollution, while reducing it shrinks the land, forcing fish traders to move closer to the lake, which will in turn intensify pollution and hippo attacks.
Papyrus fringe around the lake has a cleansing function to purify water. However, bringing the boundary closer to the reeds will expose the habitats and pollute the lake, Mr Wamalwa said.
“Riparian areas are habitats for birds and hippos. The hippos have nowhere else to go other than to the riparian areas. Interfering with their habitats will exacerbate hippo attacks,” he adds.
The hived off land, estimated to be over 100,000 acres, will be surrendered to the National Land Commission, which could redistribute it to some influential individuals.
Redistributing the land to people or private firms will move human activities closer to the lake, further exposing it to untold ecological harm. “If that happens, the lake will be reduced to a water reservoir rather than an ecosystem as we know it,” Mr Wamalwa points out.
Ruth, a widow, whose husband was attacked and killed by a hippo last year during a fishing expedition is scared by plans to move fish traders closer to the wild animals.
The mother of four, who became a fishmonger to fend for the family, narrated that her husband, who was the family breadwinner, was bitten by a hippo on the leg in December 2017 while setting up nets along the shores of the lake.
Her husband succumbed to the attack following day while receiving treatment.
“Sadly, we have never received any compensation from Kenya Wildlife Service,” says Ruth, who trades fish at Karagita landing beach.
Her 15-year-old son, who sat KCPE exams last year, also became a fisherman since they lack school fees to further his education.
Boat owner and chairman of Lake Naivasha Boat Owners Association, David Kilo, earns his living by taking tourists around the lake on boat rides. Mr Kilo notes that shrinking the lake’s riparian land will further affect fish breeding grounds and the movement patterns of herbivores such as water bucks, buffaloes and the giraffes.
“We do not understand why Warma is keen to grab parts of the lake’s riparian land. Who does it want to allocate the land to?” he poses.
Some of the smallholder lake users fear that the parcels of land hived off the riparian area will be left in the hands of private developers who will fence them.
“Fencing will only leave a small section of land for fish landing, traders, restaurants and tourists, which will expose people to conflict with wildlife,” a fish trader, Ms Rachel Wangui, argues.
Mr Kilo, who is also a fisherman, noted that fish-breeding happens on the shallow waters, almost towards the land. However, building dykes increases water columns, which affect breeding cycles, and which will eventually reduce the fish stock.
Because the water level of the lake fluctuates, chunks of land are left behind when water recedes — which are then reclaimed by both commercial and small-scale horticultural farmers for crop cultivation.
“Right now, for instance, the lake’s volume has swollen and flooded the farms as the water tries to find its course. But some farmers construct dykes to hold back the water,” Mr Kilo notes.
A fish basket for many
Like many other blue economy resources, which millions of livelihoods around the world rely on for clean water, fisheries, jobs, transport, tourism and ecological balancing, Lake Naivasha — the only fresh water lake in the Rift Valley — supports over 250,000 people in its surrounding and beyond.
The rapidly expanding horticultural industry, which is a significant contributor to the country GDP, has been also blamed for massive pollution in Lake Naivasha.
At the beginning of the year, the National Environment Complaints Committee noted that massive pollution, human encroachment and abstraction are some of the numerous challenges the lake faces.
But the bid to snatch parts of the lake shore could pit Warma against other government agencies, which are rearing to move to court should the carving off move proceed.
Nakuru County National Environment management authority (Nema) Director Antony Saisi contends that the lake is a key eco-tourism site besides being an important site for flora and fauna, which will be affected by the review.
“We already have a case against flower farms, which is yet to be concluded. Unless a report is submitted, then we assume that nothing is happening and we will therefore seek legal redress against the riparian boundary review, should Warma go ahead with the plan,” Mr Saisi says.