Kenyan flower farms, now adopting new waste water management technology to cut down on the pollution of water bodies and conserve water by 30 to 50 per cent, are reporting the environmental measures have ended up slashing their running costs, as well as ending the damage they were wreaking to the environment, including to Lake Naivasha.
Lake Naivasha flower farms had come under harsh criticism for discharging raw waste into the fresh water lake leading to the suffocation of the fish, which led to a government ban in fishing.
But the new water management system, known as hydroponics, is seeing flower farms now direct all the waste water generated in growing their flowers back to a treatment plant where it is cleaned and then re-used, so that they do not go back to the lake for more water or channel raw waste into the lake.
The Kenya Flower Council, the umbrella body for the flower growers in Kenya, which boasts of 150 members, some 30 of them around Lake Naivasha, has insisted its members apply standards in flower growing that include water management that avoids directing toxic water into the lake.
“It’s a practice that the flower farms are quickly adopting and I’m glad to report that our members have seen the sense of managing waste water not just to save the lake but because of the benefits that they stand to gain by saving cost in terms of reducing the tedious process of drawing water from the lake,” said Mrs. Jane Ngige, Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Flower Council during this year’s Naivasha horticultural fair press briefing.
Lake Naivasha Riparian Association, an association that comprises, among others, flower farms and environmental lobbyist, has also raised alarm at the rate of unchecked use of the lake water, as well as the uncontrolled sinking of boreholes to draw water. This has prompted its adoption of a code of practice for its members that has seen them invest in environmental friendly waste water management.
Growing flowers requires huge investment in water, with a flower comprising 90 per cent water in its mature form. This saw flower companies, especially those near Lake Naivasha, put pumps directly in the lake to pump the water to the farms and a discharge pump that would then pump the waste water back to the lake.
This set-up saw scientists warning that the lake’s fresh waters were falling, to now 10 feet below healthy levels. This had taken its toll on the animals residing in the lake with, for example, the number of hippos dropping by more than 25 per cent. In 1994, there were 1,500 hippos at the Lake. By 2006, that had fallen to 1,100 due to the degradation.
Yet, now the flowers have moved to superior water management to end the environmental problem, they are finding their costs have fallen too.
Vizna Flower Farm says that not only has it managed to preserve the water but it has cut the cost of hiring more manpower by 30 per cent, since the modern water treatment now only requires a maximum of six people to maintain, in sharp contrast to previously where they needed at least 20 people to ensure that the pumping of the water from the Lake happened frequently to keep the flower farm constantly in water supply.
They also incurred huge cost in clearing the discharge ditches that would clog up, meaning they had to look for alternative discharge canals.
They have now installed a shed, tank, pipes, filters, a UV sterilisation unit, and mixing valves which have cost them Sh500,000. Once waste water is discharged to one of the tanks which has been specifically set up to collect the water, the pipes then take the water to the filter and sterilization unit where the removal of chemicals happen. The water is then taken back to the flower farms for reuse. Water is recycled three times in the farm before it is then sterilized for discharge into the lake.
“We save approximately 8,000 litres of water every day with our waste water management practice, not forgetting that after we recycle the water for some time we then sterilize it to ensure that by discharging it, it is fully free of chemicals,” said Thomas Onyancha of Vizna Farms.
He estimates that within a year they have saved 2.9m litres of water. Neighbouring Mbithi Farm is also harvesting natural rainfall to supplement the recycled water.
Dr Musau Kithi from the Department of Seed, Crop and Horticulture Sciences of Moi University argues that farmers can draw invaluable lessons from the flower farms in ensuring that they no longer have to complain about inadequate water for farming.
“Water pollution has always been a great threat and a grave concern globally, but farmers should learn from what our flower companies are adopting, not just to fight pollution but equally to shield themselves from the perennial woes of water shortage when farming. Waste water management coupled with rain water harvesting could change fortunes for our farmers and we can borrow from Tunisia a country that is doing so well in waste water management,” said Dr Musau.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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