River Njoro

A woman fetches water from a section of River Njoro.

| Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

The women on the frontline of reviving degraded River Njoro

 From the depths of Logman Forest, Nessuit trading centre overlooking the Eastern Mau is bustling with farmers bringing their produce to sell on market day.

The market is a beehive of activity, crowded with carts and donkeys. They come loaded with fresh produce such as green maize, grain, fruits, vegetables and Irish potatoes.

Tractors are also bringing fresh produce from nearby villages.

Selling side by side with farm produce from the surrounding villages of Gichage, Mariashoni and Njoro are tree seedlings being sold by a group of women.

The women are showing farmers and traders that planting tree seedlings is not only being environmentally and socially responsible, but it is also a good business.

They sing songs in praise of their tree seedlings. The women are calling out loud to advertise their products. They try to attract buyers but they face hard competition because there are several hawkers selling fast-moving fresh produce like carrots, green peas and Irish potatoes.

However, these women are not about to give up. They step up their campaign to attract buyers, who rarely glance at their makeshift stall.

Eventually, one customer buys some tree seedlings and the women are over the moon.

These women are playing a lead role in tackling some of the biggest environmental threats, from climate change to species loss and pollution that is threatening the dying River Njoro.

River Njoro is the lifeblood of Lake Nakuru. It originates from the Eastern Mau escarpment of Rift Valley and is regarded as the biggest source of water for the lake.

Lake Nakuru is also fed by three seasonal rivers — Nderit, Makalia and Lamudhiak —  all of which originate from the Eastern Mau Forest.

The Mau Forest is part of the catchment basin for several other Rift Valley lakes.

 Lake Nakuru, which is inside Lake Nakuru National Park, is popularly known as ‘a beautiful wildlife haven’ because of its unique attractions like the flamingoes and more than 400 other bird species.

Njoro River

Women tend to a tree nursery in Nessuit, Njoro, Nakuru County on June 27, 2023. 

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

The park is home to 56 different species of mammals including black and white rhinos, waterbucks and big cats and a vegetation with more than 500 different plant species; including the unique and biggest euphorbia forest in Africa.

The lake’s survival is now on the edge as the 60km long River Njoro and its watershed that covers about 276 square kilometres is facing immense pressure due to a population boom.

The River Njoro basin is a source of livelihood for more than 300,000 people. It is estimated that in 2030, the number of people depending on the river will reach 500,000.

A recent tour of River Njoro from its source shows that it is drastically depleted due to overuse, drought and climate change. The river is dirty and neglected.

It is heavily polluted with harmful plastic and blackish rings of industrial waste that float on its surface like grease on soup.

As it snakes through Barut slums, the river gathers more dirt including human waste. Piles of rotting domestic garbage are heaped on the river that has been converted into a thriving brewery for illicit brews.

A dark slurry with floating bits of plastic, cloth, and rubber slowly passes downstream and finally sips into Lake Nakuru.

But it is not all gloom and doom as this group of women in Nessuit is spearheading the restoration and protection of the riparian buffer zone by planting trees at the source. They are also running programmes to sensitise residents along the river banks on the need to plant trees and not dump waste into the river.

“I grew up hearing beautiful and lovely songs of the wise women of my community who said the green forest that we see today in Mau is there because our ancestors protected it by planting trees,” says Lucy Nyambura, the group leader.

“I tell my customers that even as they buy food, they should not forget to make peace with nature by buying a tree seeding and go and plant at home because trees can provide food, fuel, construction materials and water,” says Ms Nyambura.

“President William Ruto has launched an ambitious programme to plant 15 billion trees by 2032 and we want to be part of that legacy and save River Njoro, which is under the threat of extinction.}

Her colleague Esther Kipsang says: “I’m a Class Eight dropout but when I attended a community awareness meeting organized by WWF-K (World Wide Fund for Nature-Kenya) I learnt that planting trees reduces carbon dioxide emissions, conserves and restores biodiversity, and minimises pollution and waste. This isn’t my opinion. It’s science from scientists who went to school.”

Njoro River

A section of Njoro River in Nakuru County.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

However, she explains, most residents are yet to embrace tree planting and smart agriculture.

“Farmers plant up to the river bank and the fertiliser they use ends up in the river due to soil erosion,” she says. That prompted Hellen Kosgei to join the women's group and start her own tree nursery.

Getting started was not a walk in the park, she says. She faced opposition from her family members “for spending money on a useless project” and was frequently dismissed on the basis of her gender.

But Ms Kosgei led by example, using her own money to start the project and taking her message to schools, merry–go–round chamas and church, where she got a huge following that started planting trees in their homesteads.

 “We can all take action and inspire others to take action on a bigger scale. I have no regrets whatsoever. If you see something that needs to be changed, be the one to change it first,” says Ms Kosgei.

“We can see what degradation has done to River Njoro,” says Ms Kosgei.

She raises awareness among young people in schools to plant trees and talks to relevant authorities to buy her tree seedlings in order pull the river back from the brink of death.

These women are on the climate solutions frontline, specialising in propagating, growing and selling tree seedlings for the purpose of reforestation and afforestation along the dying river.

The efforts to save the river are led by WWF- Kenya, which is working with four groups of Water Resource Users Association in Njoro, Nessuit, Ngata and Barut in a bid to expose the detrimental impact of human activities and environmental degradation that have plunged the river into a crisis.  “Emergency measures are required to avert catastrophe in River Njoro, which has been drying up due to excessive water use and plastic pollution. The Lake Nakuru ecosystem could collapse in the coming years,” says James Wakibia, an environmental activist.

“There is open unwillingness by both the national and county governments to address the increasing degradation of River Njoro. The government ought to come up with a commission not just for Nairobi River but all rivers threatened by pollution,” he adds.

Nakuru County Environment Executive Nelson Maara says the county is keen on keeping plastics out of the river.

“We plan to make the river clean but implementing water regulations sometimes is tricky due to a slim workforce,” says Dr Maara.

Efforts by Climate Action to reach out to the National Environment Management Authority Nakuru office were fruitless as our calls and email messages were not responded to.