Mitigating the Water Footprint of Export Cut Flowers from the Lake Naivasha Basin, Kenya

M.M. Mekonnen, A.Y. Hoekstra, R. Becht

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61 Citations (Scopus)
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Kenya’s cut-flower industry has been praised as an economic success as it contributed an annual average of US$ 141 million foreign exchange (7% of Kenyan export value) over the period 1996–2005 and about US$ 352 million in 2005 alone. The industry also provides employment, income and infrastructure such as schools and hospitals for a large population around Lake Naivasha. On the other hand, the commercial farms have been blamed for causing a drop in the lake level, polluting the lake and for possibly affecting the lake’s biodiversity. The objective of this study is to quantify the water footprint within the Lake Naivasha Basin related to cut flowers and analyse the possibility to mitigate this footprint by involving cut-flower traders, retailers and consumers overseas. The water footprint of one rose flower is estimated to be 7–13 litres. The total virtual water export related to export of cut flowers from the Lake Naivasha Basin was 16 Mm3/yr during the period 1996–2005 (22 % green water; 45 % blue water; 33 % grey water). Our findings show that, although the decline in the lake level can be attributed mainly to the commercial farms around the lake, both the commercial farms and the smallholder farms in the upper catchment are responsible for the lake pollution due to nutrient load. The observed decline in the lake level and deterioration of the lake’s biodiversity calls for sustainable management of the basin through pricing water at its full cost and other regulatory measures. Pricing water at full marginal cost is important, but the conditions in Kenya are unlikely to result in serious steps to full-cost pricing, since many farmers resist even modest water price increases and government is lacking means of enforcement. We propose an alternative in this study that can be implemented with a focus on sustainable water use in flower farming around Lake Naivasha alone. The proposal involves a water-sustainability agreement between major agents along the cut-flower supply chain and includes a premium to the final product at the retailer end of the supply chain. Such a ‘water sustainability premium’ will raise awareness among flower consumers and—when channelled back to the farmers—facilitate the flower farms to install the necessary equipment and implement the right measures to use water in a sustainable manner. The collected premiums will generate a fund that can be used for financing measures to reduce the water footprint and to improve watershed management
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3725-3742
Number of pages17
JournalWater resources management
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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