In many African countries, including Kenya, the majority of people depend on natural resources and ecosystem services for basic survival. The local, natural environment provides food, fresh water, energy, medicine, construction materials, cultural services, pollination control, among other vital services.
As East Africa develops and its population grows upward, more land is being converted to agriculture to satisfy rising demand for food, particularly in growing urban areas. This results in forest and biodiversity loss and disrupted ecosystem services, especially concerning water. Because Kenya encompasses dramatic shifts between agro-ecological zones, from arid and semi-arid areas in the north and east to tropical highlands in the south and west, maintenance of forest cover nationwide is doubly important to ward off desertification and soil degradation.
Between 1990 and 2010, Kenya lost 6.5% of its total forest cover, or around 241,000 hectares. Forest loss was driven mainly by conversion to agriculture, logging, and charcoal production.
Water scarcity has been an issue in Kenya for decades as water demand regularly exceeds renewable freshwater sources. In addition, equitable access to water is a particularly serious challenge, and water use conflicts over irrigation, livestock, and wildlife are recurrent in parts of the country. Regarding energy, only 18% of Kenyans had access to electricity in 2010 (IEA, World Energy Outlook, 2012), and of this, close to 75% was derived from hydropower. Instead, most Kenyans rely on biomass and waste, including wood, charcoal, manure, and crop residues, for household heating and cooking.
Though economic growth and environmental priorities may sometimes appear at odds, EGF and Equity Bank strongly believe that well-managed and maintained ecological systems, which deliver adequate supplies of ecological services to all Kenyans, are absolutely necessary for Kenya’s long-term economic prospects. This is especially true in light of the direct linkages between several key industries in Kenya, including agriculture and tourism, and the environment.
Because of the scale of Kenya’s environmental challenges, EGF and Equity Bankhave partnered with several institutions to support forest and watershed conservation effortsand increasingly look to integrate renewable and clean technologies in standalone and integrated programming.
Working together with Equity Bank, Kenya Wildlife Service, Nation Media Group, East Africa Breweries Ltd., the Green Belt Movement, Kenya Forest Service, and the FAO, EGF has invested heavily into the conservation of the Mau Forest complex in the Rift Valley. At 273,300 hectares, the Mau is the largest indigenous montane forest in East Africa. Efforts to date haveaimed at addressing deforestation and have focused on tree planting, empowering local Community Forest Associations, and improving tree cover on the farms of forest-adjacent communities.
EGF also provided energy efficient and renewable energy technologies toward reducing reliance on fuel wood and charcoal, as well as rain water harvesting. EGF, Equity Bank, and other partners planted over one million trees in this area.
EGF and Equity Bank also recently launched a partnership with MicroEnergy Credit (MEC), a US-based social enterprise, to increase awareness and uptake of clean energy products in Kenya. With technical advice from MEC, Equity Bank is providing an innovative package of products, including specially designed Ecomoto loans, to bring more high-quality energy products on to the local market. These products include improved cook stoves, solar lighting systems, biogas plants, water purifiers, and other energy-saving and fuel-efficient systems.
Similarly, EGF and Equity Bank work with farmers under the Support to Community-Based Farm Forestry Enterprises in Arid and Semiarid Areas of Kenya project, funded by the Japan Social Development Fund and implemented by Kenya Forest Service. To date, Equity Bank has offered credit facilities to farmers, extending more than KSh17 million (US$ 181,000) for on-farm forestry activities, and EGF has provided complementary financial literacy training to beneficiaries.
Beyond these core programmes, Equity Bank also markets and provides affordable financing options for water harvesting and storage structures as well as sanitation options for safe human waste management. EGF and Equity Bank have also supported the development of tree nurseries by youth groups around the country; community and school tree planting campaigns; and the rehabilitation and cleanup of the Nairobi River.
To date, EGF and its partners have supported the planting over one million trees, mobilized over 3,000 community groups to engage in conservation action, and created over 100 tree nursery groups in the critical Mau Forest Complex. These actions contribute to a growing mosaic of partners and activities to safeguard one of Kenya’s most valuable water towers.
In addition, EGF and Equity Bank continue to develop and rollout progressive financial products and services to promote clean energy. Equity Bank successfully piloted its Ecomoto loan products in 2014 and established the infrastructure to roll out these products nationwide in 2015, including by training 45 Equity agents as clean energy stockists. In addition, Equity Bank distributed 4,257 clean energy products, held 96 clean energy awareness days at its branches, and helped over 1,000 of its own staff to acquire clean energy products for their homes.
To date, the programme has delivered an estimated KSh12,048 (over US$ 128) in annual savings per family, and, based on an average product cost of KSh3,600 (US$ 38), has delivered a 334% return on investment in one year for participating households.