What do you get when you put a group of cross-functional stakeholders together for 4 days of immersive discussion? The NaBWIG project, focused on nature-based water storage solutions in shallow alluvial aquifers, held such a workshop in Nairobi bringing together researchers, policymakers, regulatory agencies, government officers, civil society and community leaders. In a participatory exercise, the key question posed was: What forces are responsible for the vulnerability of the smallholding farmers in shallow alluvial aquifer regions of Africa? Together, the group identified relevant forces and their causal mapping leading to a complex system diagram. Tracing the feedback loops in the system led to a simple structural representation of the dynamics of the system. As a result of this exercise, many assumptions were challenged and some key insights were developed. This included the identification of vicious cycles and balancing forces which, if unaddressed, are likely to undo the impact of water investments. They pointed to the need for ensuring appropriate water use and sand harvesting regulations for sustainable water abstraction.
Kenya’s water regulation, hailed as most comprehensive in Africa, requires all users to go through an assessment by the state agency to ascertain the amount of water abstracted per uptake point. This regulation is difficult to implement in shallow alluvial aquifers as the uptake points (such as scoop holes in sand rivers) change dynamically and the hydrology of the sand river does not make it feasible to have a common uptake point for all farmers. It emerged from the discussions that the current regulation does not appropriately consider the specific case of shallow alluvial aquifers. As a result, the water regulatory authority representatives requested for specific inputs such as water use potential of sand rivers, which can help in the formulation of more suitable and easy-to-implement regulation for this specific case. They also expressed keen interest in the project’s research on “sustainable” levels of sand harvesting that may be licensed with minimal impact to the social-ecological system. In the project’s second term, NaBWIG researchers will continue to focus on these questions and interact with the project stakeholders.
Dr. Pooja Prasad