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Landscape investments: businesses act now or suffer later

Compelling discussion, commentary, stories on agriculture within thriving ecosystems.

This post was originally published on the EcoAgriculture Blog on July 7, 2014.

In 2009, businesses and farmers operating in Naivasha received a rude wake up call. Lake Naivasha almost dried up. In a basin that supports over 60% of Kenya’s flower industry, accounting for over 1% of the country’s GDP, policy makers and businesses were quick to respond. But will it always take a threat like this to ignite the private sector and government to take action?

Naivasha landscape where over 50% of Kenya Naivasha landscape where over 60% of Kenya's cut flowers for export are produced. Photo: EcoAgriculture Partners

During a session at the Landscapes for People Food and Nature (LPFN) in Africa Conference last week in Nairobi, participants discussed ways in which businesses can be engaged more effectively in integrated landscape management initiatives.

As the global market demands increase, businesses are increasingly looking to Africa where 60% of the world’s remaining available arable land for food production rests. But uncoordinated resource use between different sectors in a landscape, such as mining, logging, fishing, horticulture and agriculture, combined with an increasingly variable climate has resulted in rapidly declining resource security. A recent LPFN study also found that private sector stakeholders were largely absent in the current integrated landscape initiatives in Africa.

So why should businesses engage in integrated landscape initiatives now?

It’s easy, according to Richard Fox, Director of Finlays Horticulture Kenya and Chairman of the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), which represents over 50% of the flowers exported from Kenya.  Businesses are driven by concerns over risks to their investment and the consequent losses in shareholder value, Fox explained.

“These risks are numbers; they are financial risks.  If we run out of water, we no longer do business,” Fox said.

After the 2009 drought in the Naivasha Basin, where horticulture accounts for two-thirds of water withdrawals, the Kenyan Government established Imarisha Naivasha, an initiative that brings together the public sector, private sector and civil society partnerships to address environmental challenges facing the basin.

“An integrated approach is the only answer to whatever happens in the basin,” said Kamau Mbogo, Program Manager of Imarisha Naivasha. To address the risk of water security in the basin, Imarisha Naivasha has adopted a number of strategies including:

  • Water harvesting technologies for large water users
  • Adoption of hydroponic farming which saves 30-40% of water consumed
  • Water allocation plan for the landscape that dictates water consumption or the consumption of water saving technologies based on lake levels
  • Payment for ecosystem services where lower water users (such as the flower industry) contribute money in kind to upstream communities as an incentive to manage the upstream ecosystem to ensure regular flows of river water

This public private partnership has been particularly successful in Kenya where large businesses such as Finlays are engaging with multiple stakeholders in the basin including local communities, NGOs, government and civil society partners.

The government has a critical role to play in engaging businesses in integrated land management. Christian Mensah from the Rainforest Alliance stressed that unless governments are committed to enforcing land management across a landscape, different stakeholders will not be held accountable. Fox was quick to agree.

Participants at the LPFN session discussed the creation of a framework for governments that incorporates land use standards, social impact assessments and environmental impact assessments to provide security for private investors, local communities and the environment.  This type of framework would not only incentivize sustainable business development in landscapes, attracting new businesses and investors, but it would also protect the environmental services that multiple actors depend upon.

While large businesses like Finlays may have the resources to think about the long-term sustainability of resources, participants recognized that small and medium sized businesses may not have the resources to do the same.

The following were identified as key areas where coordinated action is needed (and will be facilitated by key stakeholders from the conference):

  • Create strong business cases for farmers and governments to engage in landscape initiatives.
  • Create an enabling environment for cross-sectoral planning and action, in which the government plays a key role.
  • Build capacity of businesses to assess landscape risks and opportunities.
  • Build capacity of small and medium sized businesses on the connection between profitability, social and environmental issues.

So perhaps it won’t take a large disaster to get governments and the private sector moving to protect the landscapes on which they depend.  Instead of waiting for a rude wake up call, like in the Naivasha Basin, integrated landscape approaches, coordinated among multiple stakeholders, can help businesses better prepare for and mitigate resource constraints, while creating new opportunities for joint public-private cooperation and investment.

Do you have examples of public-private partnerships in integrated landscape management? Share with us in the comments section below.