The Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund Trust: Innovation at the nexus of conservation, food, water, energy and business

Roshni Lodhia, The Nature Conservancy
Published: 15 October 2020
Last edited: 03 February 2023
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The Tana River supplies 95 percent of the water for Nairobi’s 4 million residents, and for another 5 million people living in the watershed. It also feeds one of the country’s most important agricultural areas and provides half of the country’s hydropower output. The Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund (UTNWF) is a public-private partnership that was established to address complex challenges in the critical Tana river catchment system including the impacts of climate change and unsustainable farming practices.


The primary goal of the UTNWF Trust is to help protect and restore the quality and supply of water to one of Kenya’s most productive and economically important regions. The fund’s business case study showed that a $10 million USD investment in water fund-led conservation interventions is likely to return $21.5 million USD in economic benefits over a 30-year timeframe.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Cities and infrastructure
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Gender mainstreaming
Sustainable livelihoods
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with a company
Direct engagement with associations
Indirect through government


Nairobi, Kenya


The water fund partners are providing the skills, training and resources to capacitate farmers in reducing soil erosion, conserving water, and improving productivity. The fund focuses on the most at-risk areas of the watershed and helps farmers take simple steps to increase water and food security. Strategies include vegetated buffer zones along river banks, terracing, agroforestry, reforestation, water harvesting and more. In six years, the water fund has generated a wide range of benefits for the region:

  • 26,474 farmers are applying soil conservation and water-saving measures
  • 8,500 coffee farmers have achieved Rainforest Alliance certification
  • 1.4 million trees have been planted
  • 15,000 hectares of land are under sustainable management.
  • 28 automated river gauging stations became automated
  • 37,464 farmers enrolled in a mobile data monitoring platform
  • 2,200 people and 8,000 livestock have year-round access to reliable water from two communal water pans
  • 800 million litres of water are harvested annually in water pans in the watershed
  • 100 biogas digesters were installed for high-performing farmers
  • Various local partnerships have formed with NGOs and expert institutions to strengthen the impact of the fund.

Contributed by

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Matthew Koehorst Greenpop, IUCN Urban Alliance

Other contributors

The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy