Green Belt Movement: Restoring Degraded Natural Ecosystems for Society to Thrive


Our Global Alliance is a network of global organisations committed to environmental action who share the ambition of The Prize to repair the planet, as well as academic and non-profit institutions and private sector alliances from around the world. Our Global Alliance and nominators are a key part of Earthshot, and as such, their news is great news for the environment and something we look forward to sharing on a regular basis.   

This week, our Global Alliance Partner, Green Belt Movement, talk about the importance of restoring degraded areas in nature, and how working with communities is key to making this happen.

The natural environment is a life-line for human survival. Our ecosystems provide us with all the essential services we need – the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Appreciating some of these things we often disregard, takes us a step closer to appreciating our planet and the amazing biodiversity it supports.

The destruction of these ecosystems and land degradation is a global phenomenon and statistics indicate that 95% of Earth’s land will be degraded by 2050. One study demonstrates the urgency of our current situation, projecting that, if we remain on our current trajectory of indiscriminate deforestation, the human race has a less than 10% probability of surviving the next 20-40 years.

This year marks the beginning of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aiming to address the daunting task of restoring degraded ecosystems across our planet. Coming at a time of ecological crisis, the declaration is an opportunity for us to revive our life support system – the natural world. The detrimental effects of human activity including pollution and ecosystem damage are major contributors to climate change. And yet, the complexity of reversing these effects and restoring the environment can be addressed by surprisingly simple solutions like small community efforts including planting trees in your backyard to large-scale efforts such as restoring entire watersheds.

In Kenya, the Tana River supplies 95% of the water for Kenya’s capital city Nairobi’s four million residents, and an additional five million people living within the river basin. With Nairobi contributing 60% of the country’s gross domestic product, Tana River truly fuels Kenya’s economic growth. However, the forests on hillsides and in areas adjacent to this ecosystem have been converted for agricultural use since the 1970s – affecting the forest’s  natural ability to retain soil and store runoff water. During the rains, the soil is washed downhill reducing the farmland’s productivity and depositing loads of sediment into the streams and rivers.  The ripple effect downstream is the choking of water treatment and distribution facilities by silt rendering the water undrinkable for many households

The Green Belt Movement, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and other stakeholders, established an ambitious plan to reverse the deteriorating condition of this ecosystem. The Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund (UTNWF) educates  upstream farmers on sustainable farming practices. With our partners, GBM developed a business case study that modelled the economic impact and expected benefits of a fund supporting land conservation measures in the Upper Tana River Basin.It showed that a  healthy, functioning watershed has been shown to reduce water treatment costs and improve water regulation for people reliant on it.

The Green Belt Movement, using tree planting as the entry point, works to protect water sources through rehabilitation, supports better forest management, and implements payment of ecosystem services. This aids upstream conservation which helps mitigate the ravaging effects of climate change on these ecosystems and enables communities to adapt to the effects. Our holistic watershed-based approach also addresses the underlying factors to both poverty and environmental degradation while mainstreaming community empowerment.

Since the inception of UTNWF in 2015, there has been an incredible impact in the Tana River Basin. Working in Gura and Sagana, two sub-catchments within the Basin, GBM has engaged over 10,000 farmers by providing them with the skills and resources in soil and water-saving techniques including terrace-farming, rain-water harvesting, agroforestry, and tree planting as a buffer along streams. These conservation efforts have led to a 40% increase in yields for the farmers and within the first three years, 7150 coffee farmers earned the Rainforest Alliance Certification (RA). RA certified their sustainable farming techniques and issued a three-year trading contract that allowed the farmers to sell premium coffee, which raised their income by 30%.

Cumulatively, the project has protected and conserved the riverine ecosystem of over 26 kilometers in length within the sub-catchments through various initiatives including planting over one million trees. In turn, this has resulted in measurable benefits to water quality and quantity, including a significant decrease in sedimentation and a reduction in quantities of E.coli bacteria in the water sources as compared to results from 2014 where the levels of contamination were alarming.

The importance of the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund is undeniable and its successes evident. Our work with these communities and farmers continues to ensure that these conservation strategies continue to bear fruit. On the whole, the UTNWF stands testament to how, given the right support and resources, partnerships between different stakeholders can go a long way in conserving watersheds for improved water security benefiting city residents whilst improving the livelihoods for communities within the watersheds.

The Key Partners of the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund are The Nature Conservancy, Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company, Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund Steering Committee, Pentair, the Green Belt Movement and the Kenya Electricity Generating Company.

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Green Belt Movement
Royal Foundation