Since we know it’s probably not possible for you to personally travel the world helping in the fight for clean air and healthy communities, we want to provide you with a first-hand account from Shweta Narayan, GCM’s Regional Trainer, of what it is like to be on the ground in Kenya training local communities in air monitoring: the sights, smells and sounds, the history of problems, the communities fighting for a better life.

Arriving in Kenya and Naivasha – Day 1 – 26 July 2010

by Shweta Narayan

This is not my first visit to Kenya or Naivasha. I was here last year for a Community Environmental Monitoring workshop for the pollution impacted communities in Kenya, organised by GCM and RECONCILE. I am back this year to be follow up on the last year’s workshop.

While last year the workshop was held in Kisumu, we also visited Naivasha, primarily for its popular Hell’s Gate National Park during our day off on our way out of the country. Despite spending only half a day here, we could not miss the acres of greenhouses that we saw on the way to the National Park. We were earlier informed by the participants at the workshop that Naivasha is the capital of flower farming in Kenya and primarily supplies flowers to Europe.

Though the participants had described the extent of the flower farms and the greenhouses, no amount of introductions had prepared us for the shock we received upon seeing the farms ourselves. There were thousands of greenhouses spread as far as we could see. I have never seen so many in my life and I do not think one can see them in such numbers anywhere else other than East Africa, which seems to be the hub for horticultural produce for Europe and the West.

About Lake Naivasha:

Naivasha is also popular for its lake – Lake Naivasha, a shallow freshwater lake in Kenya’s southern rift valley. Covering an area of 23,600 ha., Lake Naivasha is one of the few freshwater lakes in Kenya as such has been declared as a Ramsar site. The lake is of immense ecological significance as it supports a diverse variety of wildlife, including at least 470 species of birds including. The lake is also popular for its Hippo, Waterbuck and Buffalo population. (For more information on the ecological aspects of the Lake Naivasha please visit www.kws.org).

Lake Naivasha is the only source of water for all the habitat and human activities around it. It is the source of irrigation (flower and vegetable farms), power production (KenGen Geothermal Power Plant), fishing and tourism. Over the years the unchecked growth of the human activities has resulted in over exploitation of water from the lake; land use conflicts; and contamination of the water and fish kills dues discharge of effluents containing pesticides from the flower farms: all this has caused an irreparable damage to the ecology of the region.

Visiting Naivasha Again!

I was tired after my 20 hour travel from Chennai, India to Nairobi, Kenya and then to Naivasha. Most of it was due to the nightmare caused by the busy traffic at Nairobi. It took us two hours just to cross the city to get to the highway to Naivasha. (My flight from Chennai to Bombay covering more than 1,000 km was 2 hours!).

With all the background I had on the Lake and flower farms/ greenhouses, I was quite prepared to experience Naivasha again this year and yet when I entered Naivasha, I could not stop being amazed and shocked once again. I will come to the factors that caused amazement later but the shock was obviously caused by the sheer site of the flower farms and the greenhouses. I had seen it all before and yet I was once again shocked by the unbelievable size of these farms. What was more shocking was the abject poverty that one could see in the worker’s settlement adjacent to the these farms.

I was told by the taxi driver that the farms have been here for the last 30 years or so. He felt that the farms thrive here because three fundamental reasons – 1. cheap labour as the rate of unemployment in the country is probably among the highest in the East African region; 2. Abundant supply of cheap natural resources like fresh water from the lake; 3. and last, but not the least. very lax governmental regulations.

Wait a minute, is it not the story of all polluted places in the world? Cheap labour, lax regulations and cheap raw materials form the success mantra for all trans-national corporations in the third world.

After the crossing the numerous farms like V.D.Berg – Kenya Roses, Homegrown – Hemerkop Farms, and Kasuturi Farms, I finally made it to the venue for the workshop: the Elsamere Field Study Center. And here is the part that amazed me the most. This center, located on the shores of the Lake Naivasha, is probably one of the most beautiful places in Kenya.

About Elsamere Field Study Center (www.elsamere.com):
The Elsamere Conservation Trust was established in 1963 and it subsequently set up its Field Study Center in 1989. The key mission of the center is to create environmental awareness and make environmental education available to all people of East Africa. This center is located in the grounds of the late Joy and George Adomson’s home at Naivasha. The Adomsons were pioneer environmental conservationists in the Eastern African region involved in documenting and protecting the local tribes, species of birds, plants and wildlife.

After a couple of hours of rest, I was taken around the center by Susan, a passionate environmental activist and a staff at the center. She also told me the story how the name Elsamere itself originated. George and Joy were engaged in community-based conservation work all their lives. On one occasion they had to assist a tribal community in killing a lion and lioness as the animals had killed several members of the community. Joy and George adopted three cubs of the lioness after this episode. While two cubs were soon taken to the zoos in Europe, Joy managed to persuade the authorities to leave the youngest and the weakest cub in her custody. This cub was named Elsa. Joy looked after the cub with the objective of releasing it back to the jungles one day. Since the cub lived close to the lake the place began to be called by the locals as Elsamere – Elsa (name of the cub) mere (close to the water).

Given its proximity to the water, there were chances that wild animals would wander into the campus of the center. I was also warned by the staff and the guards here that I should not venture out alone outside my room in the dark as the place was frequented by hippos from the lake. Scary and exciting at the same time!! I am hoping I would see one in the coming days. After an exhausting day, it’s time to take a break and prepare for more exploration of Elsamere and workshop planning tomorrow.

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