Sumawa Project in Kenya’s Rift Valley OARE case study

Published: Tuesday 12th May 2009
Category: Blog

Aided by access to research, through the Research4Life initiative, the SUMAWA project is having an impressive impact on the local community, endangered tribes and wildlife in the area. 

The Ogiek tribe in Kenya is endangered: the forest, their natural environment, has been destroyed. The reason: population growth and increased farming. The Mau Forest forms the upper catchment of the river Majora, a lifeline for 300,000 people. It empties into Lake Nakuru, famous for its resident flamingos. This critical watershed is also under threat.

For the last like five years, the Njoro river has not been flowing continuously. The lake has also been shrinking. While more than a million flamingos settled on this lake in 2004, today, there are only 70,000 left, jeopardizing tourism in the region.

Bernard Kuloba, Park Ecologist, Lake Nakuru

But the biggest problems for local residents the quality and quantity of the water. The “sustainable management of watersheds”, or SUMAWA, is a research initiative aimed to improve the long term health of the new Njoro watershed.

From our research we have found that this water is highly polluted. It has a coliform bacterial count well above what is recommended by WHO. To give you an instance, the best coliform count we have ever had from our river is about 24. While good water should only have a count of zero coliform. But here, 24 is the best. We have got some as high as 100,000.

Dr. Patterson Poli Semenye, Project Coordinator, SUMAWA

Collaboration between Kenyan and US universities, the Kenyan government, the UN Environment Programme and private sector provides support for programs leading to affordable real life solutions. For example, at nearby Egerton University, the OARE Research4Life initiative allows students and staff free online access to over 7500 peer reviewed scientific journals, books and databases from over 130 publishers, including Elsevier, Springer Verlaag, and Wiley Blackwell.

Online access to research on the environment, alongside with their sister, partnerships on health and agriculture, really have overcome in one quantum leap, a major disadvantage to many or most of the students in developing countries. They do not have the resources, in universities and in teaching institutions, to subscribe to what are often quite expensive scientific journals.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP

As the Research4Life technology partner, Microsoft provides the platform for access and authentication, able to perform at the same level as today’s most heavily trafficked websites.

Apart from research recommending, we need key interventions for reforestation in this area. That’s a major, major thing we need to go into, and also try to rehabilitate some of the streams which ran into Lake Nakuru.

Dr. James Tuitoek, Vice-Chancellor, Egerton University

Academics further developed a bio-sand filter, providing clean water for the first time. The health impact was tremendous.

Bio-sand and filters have really assisted the community of Njoro. It is accessible to our people. And it has helped to reduce 50% of the people come to the hospital: it has cut down the diarrheal diseases by around 20%.

Fredrik Bwire, Divisional Public Health Officer, Njoro

Other SUMAWA initiatives include tree nurseries and school greening programs. The Endangered Ogiek tribe hopes to rehabilitate the Mau Forest by planting 50,000 tree seedlings. And the children in primary schools are trained early on to protect their natural habitat. There’s a true to sense of belonging by planting the trees and calling them their own.

This project is very relevant because it has a direct impact on farmers, direct impact on that individual person who lives by watershed. If you take care of this environment by planting trees for your own firewood and your houses, by taking care that whatever you put in the river is clean… everybody will will benefit.

Dr. James Tuitoek, Vice-Chancellor, Egerton University

Although many challenges remain public private partnerships like Research4Life are effectively addressing real world problems in Africa, providing innovative solutions to the people who need it most.