Sustainable bottled water helps Kenyan forests

The launch of the new water bottling facility at the KENVO Resource Center, Kimende, Kenya. Photo: BirdLife International.
The launch of the new water bottling facility at the KENVO Resource Center, Kimende, Kenya. Photo: BirdLife International.
Kenyan conservationists are selling bottled water to provide a sustainable product and income to help protect its native forests.

'Drink ForestMist, Save Our Forests' is the strapline on the drinking water bottle that is the latest product of KENVO (the Kijabe Environment Volunteers), BirdLife's Local Conservation Group at the Kikuyu Escarpment Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) in Kenya's part of the Rift Valley.

By tapping, bottling and selling pure mineral water from the Kereita forest on the Kenyan Escarpment, the group also hopes to tap into a sustainable source of income to cover its conservation activities.

KENVO has been working for more than 20 years to protect and rehabilitate the Kikuyu Escarpment forests. Starting with a small tree nursery, it initiated the reforestation of 500 ha of formerly degraded forest. In addition, 80,000 trees have been planted through the KENVO schools programme and many local community members are now managing their own tree nurseries to meet the demand.

As a result of community patrols and improved management of the forest, the level of poaching has declined to almost zero, making the forest as good as safe. For this achievement, the KENVO founding member and Director, David Kuria, recently won the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa.

KENVO promotes biodiversity protection, community empowerment and youth employment,  working together with local community groups, farmers, women's groups, church groups and local youth in initiatives that combine forest conservation and poverty alleviation. It was employment that was the focus of the recent events at the KENVO Resource Center in Kimende, on the Kikuyu Escarpment.

On 17 June, Deputy Governor for Kiambu County, Hon Gerald Gakuha Githinji, officially commissioned KENVO's brand-new drinking water factory. The mineral water is bottled straight from source on the premises of the KENVO Resource Center and mainly aimed for the local market, in order to reduce the ecological footprint related to transport. The local remit will also help with KENVO's effort to recycle the plastic bottles, as all sales points will be asked to collect used bottles which will then be recycled into plastic poles. The water bottling facility is only one of various sustainable forest-based enterprises that KENVO is either promoting or exploiting itself. It already runs a highly successful honey production line, an ecotourism venture and a campsite with cottages.

Joan Gichuki of Nature Kenya, who attended the launch of the new enterprise, said: "This new business will help the Site Support Group to become even more self-sustainable. It will be less dependent on donor funding and will also channel some of the profits towards the protection of the IBA."

The new water product is aptly named: as soon as the mineral water facility was officially opened and all speeches were made, the weather changed abruptly from warm and sunny into misty and wet. This was taken as a good sign by the remaining guests who toasted to KENVO's future with their bottles of ForestMist, said BirdLife International.