Thursday began with a jog around the premises and along the local roads with Bevan (Kiwi) and Rich (American). “Around the premises” accidentally included “through the latrine runoff area.” This required deft maneuvering to avoid stepping in human waste. I’m not sure I succeeded.
Running along the roads was an experience too. All the children on their ways to school were pretty fascinated with us but the cattle and goats we had to keep dodging didn’t pay us much heed. Between the high-emissions vehicles on the road and the high altitude (almost one mile above sea level), I found myself much more winded than I should have been for our pace.
Thursday’s program featured a full day of exploration of Lake Naivasha’s industry and ecosystem. We began the day by meeting with the VP of Finance and Administration of Homegrown Ltd, a huge floriculture company specializing in roses, exporting hundreds of millions each year. A few things struck me about our morning with Homegrown.
First, Lake Naivasha, the source of water for the entire local flower industry, is changing. It is drying up and its water is becoming more polluted. While this is partially due to natural cycles, it is mostly attributed to man. Homegrown and other florists in the Lake Naivasha Growers Group surprised me with their recognition of culpability and their proactivity in addressing the issue despite no government requirement to do so. For example, they have planted local shrubs along the banks to slow runoff and filter the water that enters the lake.
Second, Homegrown is committed to reducing its environmental impact through elimination of chemical-based pesticides. However, the need to reduce rose-eating pests remains. To strike this balance, Homegrown founded another company, DuduTech (“Dudu” means “insect” in Swahili.), which develops “pesticides” by using naturally occurring insects that prey on the pests. This includes predatory insects, parasitic bugs, and a host of other approaches that all have the same objective: neutralize the pests without introducing chemicals into the environment. Cool stuff.
Finally, however, I don’t see how the model for this industry is sustainable at all. In a country (nay, on a continent) where poverty is rampant, thousands of prime agricultural hectares are being used for flowers instead of food crops. The flowers (and small amount of food crops that actually are produced) are exported immediately (Time from harvest to European retailer shelves is 48 hours.) which incurs huge environmental costs for refrigeration and transportation. Local labor is employed (and treated very fairly, it seems), but the vast majority of profit is captured by the company owners, which are largely foreign. I can’t blame the owners for their choices because the economics clearly support them, but there has to be a better way. Local companies using the land for production of locally distributed food would result in Europeans not having roses for their dining tables but millions fewer hungry Africans.
Lunch was held at a beautiful lakeside conservation center where Sykes monkeys threw feces at Max (Russian), narrowly missing me. After lunch we visited a geothermal plant and learned about Kenya’s plans to increase its use of this cheap, renewable source of energy to meet rising demand. This reminded me of 7th-grade science class, in which we were divided into energy groups. Each group represented a specific energy source and was tasked with making a music video to teach the rest of the class about it. One group had geothermal and set its song to “Su-su-sudio” by Genesis: “Ge-ge-geotherm.” My group had oil and we set our video to Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy (For My Shirt):” “I’m Too Sexy (For My Oil).” We called ourselves Nerds With Attitudes and, obviously, we were. Good times.
We closed the day with a walking safari on Crescent Island. This was pretty amazing. The animals, though wild, are used to the presence of humans so you can get much closer to them without scaring them than in other wild areas. We saw and walked among wildebeest , zebra, gazelle, impala, and giraffe. The giraffe were my favorite; they ran so gracefully! We also saw hippos, but did NOT walk among them as that would be a sure way to be trampled.
The shoes I wore were on their last legs and I have already ordered a replacement pair. It’s a good thing too, since I don’t think there was a single square foot on the entire island that didn’t feature a helpful serving of animal poop. That was the main obstacle to really running wild with the animals. And so my day concluded just as it had begun: running through poop!