Nature for Water Facility Supports Expansion Of Watershed Funds

Call For Proposals Now Open

4 Jun 2022 by The Water Diplomat
ARLINGTON VA, United States

The Nature Conservancy and Pegasys have developed the Nature for Water Facility to promote collective watershed management and nature restoration. The initiative supports local NGOs, utilities, government agencies, and corporate entities seeking to establish local watershed management programmes.

The Facility launched its first Call for Proposals window on May 23rd. Successful applicants will receive support from the facility to help launch their local programmes. The Facility offers the Call for Proposals every six months, and  aims to support a total of 30-40 programmes over the coming four years.

Water funds are public-private partnerships that promote collective action via watershed management and nature restoration, thereby improving water security for urban centres and developing local livelihoods. Over fifty such water funds have been developed to-date across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia. 

The Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund (UTNWF) is the first water fund in Africa. Its focus is to prevent soil erosion and improve rainwater storage via measures such as agroforestry and riparian buffersThe UTNWF is located in the upper Tana River in Kenya, which supplies 95% of the water for Nairobi’s 4 million residents as well as 5 million people living in the watershed.

The Tana River feeds one of the country’s most important agricultural areas and provides half of its hydropower output. However, since the 1970s, the forests on the steep hillsides of the Tana as well as wetlands have been converted to agriculture, removing natural areas for rainwater storage that prevent soil erosion.

As rain falls over farms, soils are washed down into the streams, reducing farmland productivity and sending sediment into the rivers. This increased sedimentation was choking the water treatment facility at the intake for Nairobi’s water, causing regular service disruptions. This growing challenge required extraordinary social change to protect the Tana River, increase water quality, and secure Nairobi’s water supply while benefiting tens of thousands of farmers in the watershed.

Kenya declared the UTNWF a national priority in 2017, based on the principle that it is less expensive to prevent water problems at the source than to wait to address them downstream. This required developing science-based options for the best agricultural management practices in each ecological zone while promoting effective water harvesting structures at household and community levels to reduce stream diversion and river abstraction and encourage dry season farming.

To encourage tree planting and watershed restoration on farms, project teams worked with county governments and local NGOs to identify alternative agricultural products to reduce soil erosion while upgrading farmer incomes and livelihoods. They engaged affected industries, including Kenya's largest beverage-beer, hydropower companies, and value chain agribusiness to support farmer entrepreneurship and co-fund the watershed restoration activities.

In terms of outcomes, 15,600 farm-level water pans were constructed to harvest rainwater for dry season farming while reducing the amplitude of peak floods, capturing over 1.9 billion litres of water each wet season. More than 2.3 million trees and an additional 1.3 million fruit trees have been planted in the watershed to control soil erosion.

Smallholders have year-round higher income by shifting from vulnerable, land degrading cereals to perennial fruit trees and multi-purpose vetiver for reducing soil erosion, significantly improving the value and productivity of their farms

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