IWS Workshop: Focus on Kenya and Ethiopia

During the last week of March, representatives from IWS projects across Africa came together in Kenya to explore the potential for payments for watershed services in Kenya and Ethiopia. The workshop built on groundwork laid at last year’s Katoomba China event in May,and was an opportunity for attending water professionals to gain insight into IWS projects and to begin thinking about how these concepts could be applied in their watersheds. A full list of participants is available at the end of this post.

The workshop was part of SDC’s broader effort to recognize and develop synergies between their funded projects.  “The Swiss government in SONY DSCcollaboration with the University of Bern has been supporting water quality monitoring for years in these two countries, so there’s a lot of long-term monitoring data and a solid foundation of work with communities to resolve water supply conflicts in Kenya and to conserve soil and water in Ethiopia via landscape restoration.  “The opportunity we have now,” according to Phil Covell, who helped to facilitate the workshop on behalf of Forest Trends, “is to see how economic transactions between downstream water users and upstream land managers can sustain and reinforce these efforts.”

The Workshop

After an introduction of the context and challenges of the Kenyan and Ethiopian watersheds on the evening of the first day, the second day got down to the nitty gritty of IWS.  The morning session began with introductions to IWS and the efforts of SDC to provide better linkage between the water initiatives it supports. For the rest of the morning, case studies from across Africa – and lessons learned – were presented before an afternoon Safari.

A common theme that emerged from the case studies was the importance of the shift in nomenclature from payments for watershed services to investments in watershed services.  “When we first decided to refer to investments in watershed services for the Scaling Up project,” said Phil, “it was a new thing. When I emphasize the term ‘investments’ now, practitioners of this kind of project appreciate the difference and tell us that the terminology is really meshing well with what we are beginning to understand about how to make projects successful.”

South Africa’s Working for Water (WfW) program is one case that is making the switch from the payment to investment mindset.  WfW started as a way to provide jobs while also meeting the ecological objective of removing invasive species from the nation’s waterways.  While the project is widely viewed as a success, Mark Botha of the WfW program recognized some of the weaknesses of current design, including that the focus on jobs creation (payments) has taken away from achieving strong watershed objectives.  To solve this problem, Botha described the paradigm shift that will start to happen – the shift from payments to investment, jobs to livelihoods and professions, and public works funding to water revenues.

The same message was apparent in the presentation from the joint WWF/CARE program in Kenya.  Adoption of the improved management practices was increased when the land interventions were combined with access to higher-value crops – ones that would allow farmers to increase production and income over both the short and longer term.  Whe farmers see the payment from the project as an investment in their farm and long-term livelihood ability, they are more likely to participate in the program, than when they see the payment as a payment in return for not doing their own farming processes.

Working Sessions

After the case study presentations were over, attention shifted to working out feasible plans for IWS in the Kenyan and Ethiopian watershed projects.  Each group was tasked with three steps:

  1. Stakeholder identification and institutional mapping

  2. Identification of possible sellers and buyers

  3. Rapid feasibility assessment and design issues

Ewaso Ngiro Basin – Kenya

The Ewaso Ng’iro Basin covers an area of 838,472 square kilometers and faces increasing population pressure.  As the population grows, vegetation is cleared, water demand increases, and pastoral land is degraded.  As the water crisis increases, competition and conflict has increased between stakeholders. In addition, the refugees from the military conflict in nearby Somalia contribute to the growing population.  Combined with increased precipitation variability as a result of climate, the area has a high potential for water conflicts.

According to the working group, the catchment area is too complex for a classic downstream compensating upstream scenario.  The primary goal identified was to increase base flows, with secondary goals of achieving sediment and nutrient load reductions.  The regional water authority already collects tariffs from the municipalities that goes to fund some watershed management.  While it’s not enough to make substantial investments, the money currently funds some of the farmers’ cooperative and water committees addressing the problem. It was suggested that this fund (the Water Service Trust Fund), as well as the NET fund, are already existing mechanisms that could be adapted to support a range of IWS interventions within the region.

Bringing in some of the lessons from the case studies presented, the working group advocated a “Nike Approach” (Just Do It!) in implementing small scale action where conditions can quickly and noticeably be improved. These successes could then be demonstrated and used to socialize the concept of IWS and to increase funds. The importance of socializing the idea of IWS before project implementation was also emphasized by Robert Gakubia of the Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB) during his opening remarks for the workshop.  Engineer Gakubia stated that other PWS systems in Kenya lack expertise and knowledge in order to encourage stakeholder investment, so a critical mass needs to be developed that will mainstream the concept of IWS and the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems.


The situation within the Ethiopia’s Abbay Basin is yet more dire.  The Eastern Nile supplies 85% of the main Nile flow, yet is threatened by serious land degradation which has effects both within Ethiopia and for downstream countries. In Ethiopia, erosion has resulted in reduction of agricultural productivity and increased poverty. Downstream, siltation and flooding have become urgent problems, with both Ethiopia and Sudan spending large sums of money to remove silt from hydroelectric dams.  Recognizing this problem, a partnership was formed between universities in Ethiopia and Switzerland to monitor and engage in the proposed development.

The working group proposed one model of an IWS system that would see the Ethiopian Power Authority purchasing environmental services through an addition of IWS charges to the electricity tariff. These funds would then be transferred to upstream communities and land users.  Rather than taking a “Just Do It” approach, the Ethiopian working group recommended first generating empirical evidence to support project proposals, including: amount of siltation and cumulative implication on hydropower production, impact on agricultural productivity, and costs and benefits of implementing an IWS system.

Moving forward, SDC and Forest Trends will continue to support the development of both of these IWS proposals, serving as technical and management advisors.  The group of actors brought together for this workshop will also begin to form the nucleus of the regional hub of watershed expertise that the Water Initiative hopes to develop in each of the regions we work in.

Full List of Participants

List of Resource Participants

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