Food System Impacts on Community Water Projects in the Mount Kenya Region

Käser, Fabian (10 May 2016). Food System Impacts on Community Water Projects in the Mount Kenya Region (Unpublished). In: IASC Regional Conference: Commons in a 'Glocal World' - Global connections and Local Responses. Bern. 10.-13.05.2016.

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After independence, colonial ranches in the semi-arid region North-West of Mount Kenya were allocated mainly by immigrating Kikuyu settlers who cultivate crops mainly for local as well as national consumption. In the 1990s commercial horticultural and floricultural companies started to grow food for a global agro-industrial food system linking Kenyan producers with European consumers.
In the semi-arid region, both, the settlers and the commercial producers faced serious water constraints. To cope with water scarcity and emerging conflicts, they joined forces and formed water projects for the construction and maintenance of water supply systems. Companies supported these projects mainly to avoid conflicts with neighbouring communities, accusing them of drawing off their water. Together with the government and aid agencies, the companies took over an important role for the funding and implementation of these water supply projects. Commonly developed rules, often formally committed to paper, prescribe the mandatory contribution and allowed benefit of the different members of such water projects.
According to the literature, this seems to be a successful model of participatory bottom up initiatives for a common management of a sparse resource, even including commercial companies. These institutions are also well nested in regional and national legislations through so-called Water Resource User Associations and the New Water Act of 2002. With the involvement of the commercial horticultural companies, these water projects also illustrate an interesting and positive interlink of the agro-industrial and the local to national food systems in this region.
However, by a closer look on the ground at which interest groups are actually benefiting from these water supplies, analysis of selected water projects show that not all members are benefiting equally. Some groups have advantageous positions to access water even in times of scarcity while others are still not connected to the supply system. This can be explained through physical characteristics of the system (e.g. proximity to intakes), but negotiation processes, including bargaining power positions, also influence the distribution of the piped water. While the companies’ supply is relatively secure, some groups of smallholders do not benefit from the project at all and again accuse the companies of drawing off too much water. A further problem is lack of funding. Members who do currently not receive water or expect limited access in times of scarcity – because others have better abilities to take water – are not willing to invest in the construction and maintenance of the pipe system. This reduces available funds to improve the distribution system for the sake of all members and in turn increases the number of members with limited access.
Some of the actors who do not benefit from the current management of the resource see the failure in the bad management of these common projects and call for private companies as water supply provider.
The presentation will address questions of impacts of the different food systems on the management of the common water supply from local actors’ perspectives scrutinized in a three months exploratory anthropological field research.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Social Anthropology

UniBE Contributor:

Käser, Fabian


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Fabian Käser

Date Deposited:

01 Sep 2016 10:58

Last Modified:

01 Sep 2016 10:58

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Community Water Management; Food System Interlinks; Mount Kenya Region


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