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Water-Smart Innovations for Food and Nutrition Security: Rainwater and Wastewater Reuse for Sustainable and Regenerative Food System

A Sustainable and Regenerative Food System Riding on Rainwater Harvesting and Wastewater Recovery and Reuse for Food and Nutrition Security

Photo of David Njinse
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Laikipia County Natural Resources Network (LAICONAR)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Just beginning now

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Nanyuki and Rumuruti towns of Laikipia County

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Kenya

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Together, Rumuruti and Nanyuki cover an area of not more than 5,000 Sq. Km.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Kenya

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Growing up in the rural parts of Laikipia landscape in the last half of my life I have been exposed to water scarcity, food insecurity (in terms of availability, accessibility, affordability and adequacy). I have experienced food insecurity, including water scarcity, crises. Instances of malnourishment and people dying of hunger have been common. Residing, with my family, in this landscape, in Rumuruti, has exposed me to above issues enabling me share the challenges and aspirations of the people from an issue-affected perspective. This influenced me to be active in the civil society organisations advocating for pro-people, food and landscape policy reforms in the landscape. My active and insistent participation led to the formation of the non-governmental organisation, Laikipia County Natural Resources Network (LAICONAR), sharing this food systems vision.

Over time, I have been part of efforts to propagate Integrated Landscape Management (ILM) practices across the landscape. I have worked with small-holder farmer groups raising awareness on climate change, conservation, and advocacy for formulation of policies that are pro-sustainable development.

In the selected vision locations, Rumuruti and Nanyuki, there is limited rainfall. These locations are very dry. In Rumuruti, for instance, farmers have encroached the Ewaso Narok Swamp. Water is scarce for both domestic and farming activities. This trend will worsen in future considering climate change and that the area is fast urbanising and the population is growing. In Nanyuki, people mostly depend on food imports from neighbouring counties. Agriculture practiced in the area is mainly irrigated and done mostly by commercial farms doing horticulture. Resident communities in the area lack adequate supply of water for both irrigation and domestic use. Ecological conditions of these areas favour agriculture. The only lacking key ingredient is water for there to be food and nutrition security – now and in the future.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Laikipia landscape – the place and its people

Laikipia is one of 47 counties in Kenya located on the equator. It lies between latitude 00 51'' North and longitude 360 11'' and 370 2'' East. The Laikipia Landscape covers the whole of Laikipia County, which is located on the Equator in central Kenya. It covers an area of approx. 9,620 sq. km, including a plateau bordered by the Great Rift Valley to the West, the Aberdares Mountain Range to the South and Mt. Kenya to the South-East, with the Ewaso Nyiro River and its tributaries flowing from South to North through the Landscape. The altitude varies between 1500 meters above sea level in the Ewaso Nyiro Basin in the North to 2611 meters above sea level around Marmanet Forest. A big portion of the landscape is in the arid part.

Although Laikipia is in the arid and semi-arid part of Kenya, it is endowed with several natural resources, including pasture land, forests, wildlife, and water resources. 85% of the population engages in agriculture (both crop and livestock production) which is the most important source of household income.

Its people are made up of over 23 ethnic communities, all coexisting peacefully. All these communities enjoy and propagate their traditions/cultures freely across the landscape. Although becoming limited, pastoralists are still practising their nomadic lifestyle while other communities practice agriculture. Some sections of the population engage in non-agriculture income-earning activities such as mining of sand and stones. With farming and livestock keeping, among other agricultural and cultural practices, there is availability of nutritious food but awareness on nutrition is inadequate across the landscape.

In the landscape, rural-urban migration is continuous but has been increasing at a rate higher than in the last 2 decades. Urbanisation and population expansion is putting immense pressure on services and infrastructure in urban centres leading to, for example, rise of slums. Nevertheless, the people here are still hopeful that with the adoption of the right practices in development, food and nutrition security and water among other areas such as land use practices will be sustainable. Again, vision by various stakeholders that things – e.g., water, food and climate – will change for the better also adds onto people’s hope of a liveable tomorrow.

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

While it is clear there is need to change the way we do business in the agriculture sector if we are to adequately provide food, feed and fibre to a global population that is destined to peak at 9 billion in 2050, there are challenges that the food systems face in my landscape. They include


Policy  

Policy on access to safe and nutritious food is lacking. There has never been a coordinated policy to determine food production, distribution and consumption. Guidelines for healthy eating and food safety are scanty and scattered across various sectors, e.g., of health, agriculture, etc. Investment in research and environmental protection is also inadequate.


Technology

Innovations and advancements in technology are fast changing local communities’ outlook on food systems. There lacks – and will continue to lack – technological capacities of local communities to tap into the opportunities presented by advances in technology. Capacity in, for instance, Artificial Intelligence (AI) to aid in detection and assessment of the chemistry of water and food products is inadequate in the selected vision locations.


Culture

A community’s food and culture are closely-knit. And over time, the two – food and culture – evolve. With globalisation, among other factors such as climate change, certain aspects associated with food, and culture, are bound to be lost. For example, consumption of raw blood and milk from cattle by pastoral communities will be inhibited by urbanisation which will hinder rearing of huge herds of cattle. Instead, communities will be forced to rear few, if any, dairy animals on small plots of land for sources of income and food (e.g., milk and meat). Fishing is becoming impossible as aquatic life is quickly dwindling due to changes in water quality and quantity in rivers and lakes as a result of harmful upstream land-use practices.


Economics

In the vision locations, ownership and power in grain and vegetable food systems is controlled by foreign firms. Smallholder farmers are not getting value for their produce. This discourages them from engaging in on-farm income generating activities.


Diets

There is high prevalence of ‘hidden hunger.’ communities eat and spend low on fruits, vegetables and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Processed foods businesses are thriving faster across the landscape and nationally. The burden of disease has also been severe on consumers of processed foods.


Environment

The compounded effects of climate change, urbanisation and population expansion is having – and will have – a significant effect on the food system in the landscape. Natural resources – water, soil and air – are supposed to be exploited well without additional harm, but more care and steps aimed at their regeneration.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The vision intends to help in resolution of various challenges in the landscape in a number of ways as listed here below

  1. Policy  

Policy on access to safe and nutritious food is lacking. There has never been a coordinated policy to determine food production, distribution and consumption. Guidelines for healthy eating and food safety are scanty and scattered across various sectors, e.g., of health, agriculture, etc. Investment in research and environmental protection is also inadequate. To address this phenomenon, the vision drivers will work closely other relevant stakeholders for harmonisation of policy.

  1. Technology

The vision will leverage on available as well as new and emerging technological interventions. Innovations and advancements in technology are fast changing local communities’ outlook on food systems. This cannot be ignored. The vision will employ use of innovations to drive and accelerate a food system that is aimed at achievement of food security without compromising environmental integrity. The vision will also consider application of technology recognising that both climatic and environmental shocks may affect food systems.

  1. Culture

A healthy, regenerative and sustainable food system will be able to uphold a community’s culture and traditions, now and in the future.

  1. Economics

The vision will help in unpacking of the opportunities available for the community to tap into for their livelihoods and well-being. Such opportunities include fish farming, crop production, bee keeping as a result of undisturbed ecosystem able to support biodiversity, eco-tourism among other benefits that accrue as a result of management of wastewater generated from upstream users.

  1. Diets

The vision will promote intensification of fish farming and crop production with recycled water and harvested rainwater. It will promote production of fruits, vegetables and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids by the community using these abundant resources.

  1. Environment

The vision will ensure adoption of a regenerative  agro-ecological food system model where it will be premised on belief that there are enough resources in the landscape for food production without harming the environment. Non-conventional water sources (rainwater harvesting and wastewater recycling) will provide the much needed water for a circular economy. The vision will strive to build on and develop industrial symbiosis – where water Service Providers share effluent with the vision stakeholders for further treatment and reuse in agriculture and release to the environment while clean and safe. The vision will open a window for exploration of possibility of trapping gases in the wastewater treatment plants for cooking in households and help contain emission of greenhouse gases from these treatment facilities.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The people and the place will experience a paradigm shift as a result of implementation of the vision. Below is an outline:


Policy: Policy on access to safe and nutritious food is will have been reviewed and adapted to the needs of society and changing climate dynamics.. The vision will have actualised efforts to bring stakeholders together for formulation of guidelines for healthy eating and food safety.


Technologically, innovations and new and emerging interventions will help, for example in high precision watering of crops and dosing of nutrients recovered from wastewater. Means of preserving the nutritional value of foods will be improved hence availability and accessibility of food whenever needed and by all.


Culturally, a well maintained landscape would be able to support their diets and food needs, now and in the future. Cultivation of traditional crops, fishing and rearing of livestock will enabled in a well conserved landscape. People and landscape resilience will have been strengthened.


Economically, the community will have a widened spectrum of opportunities with regard to economic activities.


Diets: Foods grown with recycled wastewater will benefit from essential nutrients such as nitrogen. These are among the building blocks for proteins in crops and as a result will help improve the national value of foods produced in the vision location to benefit the people. People will now be able fish healthy and safe fish to supplement their diets with essential omega-3 fatty acids.


Environmentally, use of recycled wastewater rich in nutrients (notably carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients). Diverse sources of water supply – from non-conventional sources – will lessen pressure on natural ware resources giving room for regeneration of aquatic life and rivers, lakes and wetlands. Diversity of biodiversity in a conserved and less disturbed landscape will create more resilience and more symbiotic opportunities for both flora and fauna.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Water is at the core of sustainable development and regenerative future. It underpins food and nutrition security for society, both now and into the future. By 2050, humanity, including my community in Laikipia County, Kenya, will have experienced rapid population growth and urbanisation. By this time, 2050, I believe that non-conventional water sources – rainwater harvesting and treatment to be fit-for-purpose as well as wastewater recycling – will be a major contributor to the achievement of universal access to adequate water supply for agro-ecological purposes.

Rainwater harvesting and storage, in both urban and peri-urban areas, is a big opportunity worth maximising on. Water so harvested and stored could be used for household level fruits and vegetable production. Institutions, e.g., hospitals, schools, correctional facilities, markets and churches could tap into this opportunity, harvest and store water in bulk in ‘water banks’ for use for crop production and fish farming. Lessons available in a ‘Water Bank’ School, in Laikipia County, (http://www.zeitzfoundation.org/index.php?page=laikipia-programme&subpage=Greater-Segera-4Cs-Project&subcateg=21) in the landscape could be tapped into for scaling in other institutions and locations across the landscape. This vision will take advantage of ‘none-to-limited’ levels of contamination of the atmosphere in the region. The region is not heavily industrialised – at least for now and probably in the next few decades – making the atmosphere ‘free’ of harmful contaminants such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which would render food produced with water and land contaminated thus unhealthy.

Wastewater generated – over 30,000 cubic meters per day in both selected vision locations – from urban and peri-urban sewered areas would be subjected to further treatment for polishing up and making it more safe for irrigating farms. This would be done using constructed wetlands to produce ideal quality effluent suitable for both fish farming and crop production.

This vision strives for and promises a regenerative and nourishing food systems future in a themed-approach as follows;


Environment

The environment stands to benefit from nutrients cycle. Nitrogen and phosphorus will be used in crop production. These nutrients could also be recovered for use as fertiliser. Wastewater recycling will have dealt with eutrophication of water bodies downstream. Aquatic life will start regenerating and provide essential food supplies for nourishing diets, e.g., from fishing to get omega-3 fatty acids. Both rainwater harvesting and wastewater recycling will reduce pressure on rivers and lakes for water for agriculture and other uses. This will result in natural ecosystems being left to regenerate and restore ecosystem services. The vision will help address the many environmental drivers of hunger.


Policy  

The current and looming food and nutrition insecurity crises across the country call for re-examination of relevant policy. The vision will have awakened stakeholders and public pressure on governments and businesses to adopt more sustainable and regenerative food systems. It will advocate for increased investment in research and environmental protection.


Technology

Innovations and advancements in technology are fast changing local communities’ relationship with food systems. The vision will intensify advocacy and demonstration of application of nutrient-value retention in processing and storage of food products produced in the landscape. The vision will also advocate for and strive to raise awareness on adoption of automation technologies in irrigation and dosing of soil nutrients for achievement of optimum productivity. There will be wide use of green technologies such as solar and wind for energy needs in farms, firms and households. Other new and emerging interventions such as data science and analytics will also be employed.


Culture

Recognising that a community’s food and culture are intertwined, the vision will strive to forge and strengthen areas of sustainability. It will promote formation of more community ranches/conservancies through such avenues as land owners associations or in community land parcels with the landscape. It will uphold observance of communities’ exhibition and propagation of traditions/cultures for all the ethnic communities in the vision locations. Improved environmental and economic conditions will aid in fostering perpetuation of society’s cultural foods and cuisines.

Economics

Focus on empowerment of communities for value addition of their food products will help smallholder farmers fetch relatively fair prices for their produce. Being to manage and contain post-harvest losses will be of economic value to farmers. Their economic resilience will be enhanced due to having a regenerative food system and climate-smart practices.


Diets

‘Hidden hunger’, among other dimensions of food security crises will be managed by adoption of time- and climate-smart practices for food production. Fish, vegetables and fruits, among other foods, produced in urban and peri-urban settings using water from harvested rainwater and/or recycled wastewater will provide communities with essential nutrients in their diets. The burden of disease will also have been dealt with when society eats health and nutritious foods.

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Photo of Trupti Jain
Team

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