Are Cut Flowers Killing the Wildlife in Kenya's Lake Naivasha?

kenya lake photo

Photo via joebeone via Flickr CC

Flamingos are landing at Lake Naivasha in Kenya. This might seem like a good thing at first - more wildlife is a sign of vitality, right? But there's one problem. Flamingos like salt water and Lake Naivasha is a fresh water lake. Or at least, it's supposed to be. The flamingos are one of many signs showing that the chemistry of the lake is changing and that spells bad news for the flora and fauna that call it home. While there is a debate raging on what is causing the pollution and problems for the lake, several fingers point to the flower farming industry. Circle of Blue reports, "Lake Naivasha was a site visited by several journalists following the major UN conference for World Water Day in Nairobi. The lake, which is listed as protected by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, was once an incredible tourist attraction. Development around the lake has resulted in deforestation and now wildlife is disappearing. In the meantime, two of the rivers that flow into the lake, Malewa and Gilgil, are drying up and a thick algal soup develops among the papyrus groves on the lake's margin. The algae, just like the flamingos, shouldn't be there."

Hippo pods have been devastated by the shrinking water levels - stranded between farmland and a disappearing water source, and flora and fauna at the base of the food chain are disappearing.

While climate change is in part to blame, agriculture is taking a major toll from pulling water to polluting what is left. Flower farming seems to be a major culprit, and because Kenya is the top flower supplier for the European Union, the debate over how much impact flower farms are having on the lake is a hot one. According to the Kenya Flower Council, the industry earned US$585 million in 2008 - so which is more important, the tourism around a healthy Lake Naivasha, or the flower industry?

According to Circle of Blue, over 50 farms line the lake's shore, and half of the water withdrawls from the lake go to the farms. The water being pumped back in is polluted with pesticides and fertilizers. While a handful of individual big companies are concerned, they make up only about 25% of all the companies, which means there aren't many advocates for figuring out solutions to keep the lake healthy and the flower industry booming.

"We suspect some chemicals are being released to the lake from the flower farms," said Geoffrey Mwirikia, the chairman of one of the lake's fishing associations. "But the government says it's not the farms."

The massive impact of agriculture on water sources is no secret - China dumps millions of gallons of commercial fertilizer into their rivers every year with dire consequences, and here in the US, agriculture is causing massive dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. So while the government and flower companies say the farms aren't to blame, it's difficult to believe that they aren't at lease a big part of the cause of Lake Naivasha's woes.

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