Pioneering the Future of Water Security: World’s First Women-led Water Fund Launched in Kenya

NANDI, NOVEMBER 2, 2023 – In an event marked by hope and determination, The Nature Conservancy, alongside a coalition of partners, has launched a groundbreaking initiative—the River Yala Water Fund, the world’s first water fund led and executed by women. This historic effort aims to bolster water security and sustainably manage the River Yala basin’s resources while empowering local communities, especially women, through innovative conservation strategies.

Amid the lush landscape of the Nandi region, the announcement of the River Yala Water Fund heralded a new era for the local people and the environment. The initiative, a result of a partnership with Women in Water and Natural Resource Conservation, Kapsabet Nandi Water and Sanitation Company, Mama Doing Good, and other stakeholders, is a testament to collaborative conservation and gender empowerment in addressing some of Kenya’s most pressing ecological challenges.

The project’s foundation is built upon the water fund model developed by The Nature Conservancy. This collaborative platform unites various water stakeholders, including the public and private sectors and civil society, to invest in targeted conservation efforts to sustain the water upon which they all depend. The Nature Conservancy’s track record of over two decades in pioneering water funds has established a blueprint for success, which is now being tailored to the River Yala basin.

The program’s scale is as ambitious as its mission, intending to engage with 10,000 smallholder farmers across five counties—Nandi, Vihiga, Kakamega, Siaya, and Bungoma—cradling the River Yala. Activities under the fund will range from extensive tree-planting campaigns, featuring fruit, fodder, and nut trees, to the promotion of rainwater harvesting techniques and the application of sustainable agricultural practices.

In addition to these interventions, the River Yala Water Fund will oversee the establishment of freshwater ecology surveys and rigorous river water quality monitoring systems. In the realm of education, over 100 fruit gardens are slated for creation in schools situated within the watershed, fostering environmental awareness among the young.

A critical component of the initiative is the mobilization of thousands of women into conservation efforts, empowering them economically through the sale of tree seedlings and fruits. This move not only advances environmental goals but also nurtures resilient livelihoods and fosters a sense of ownership and agency among women in the region.

The River Yala Water Fund is an integral part of The Nature Conservancy’s larger commitment to plant five million trees in four critical catchments and water towers, aligning with the First Lady of Kenya’s goal to plant 500 million trees. These efforts contribute to the national ambition to increase Kenya’s forest cover from the current 7.6% to 30% by 2032—a leap forward in combating climate change and securing ecological integrity for future generations.

Ademola Ajagbe, The Nature Conservancy’s Africa Regional Managing Director, highlighted the initiative’s integrative approach, “We all need to work together to restore and protect our water sources that are threatened by forest degradation and increased agricultural activity, while supporting livelihoods and improving food and water security. The water fund model provides an opportunity to do this collaboratively, through truly African solutions that marry rigorous nature-based approaches with traditional, sustainable African practices.”

With two other active water funds in Kenya—the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund and the Eldoret-Iten Water Fund—the River Yala initiative is poised to replicate and amplify the success stories already unfolding across the country. The Upper-Tana Nairobi Water Fund alone has already achieved the conservation of 322 kilometers of riparian lands and the growth of 4 million trees. The Eldoret-Iten Water Fund, in its nascent stages, has shown promising results, significantly improving the livelihoods of 10,000 households and promoting sustainable water management practices.