What Naivasha's bond with nature, enguinity can teach other regions

Steam wells at Ol Karia near Naivasha. [XN Iraki, Standard]

Naivasha never ceases to fascinate me. It’s not about the lake for now. It’s about how nature is fair and gracious. 

Think of Olkaria, dry and unforgiving. But that’s where steam for producing power is found. Who thought anything valuable could come from such a desolate place?

A visit to the Hell’s Gate National Park, where Olkaria power plants are located leaves one breathless. The steam wells bring life to the desolate landscape. Even non-believers will admit there is a power behind this natural wonder.

There seems to be more stones than vegetation around Olkaria. Contractors would smile if they had access. Most stones need no mining, just picking! The region around Naivasha is dry but a lake is the lifeline. Just as we have an oasis in the desert. How come all such desolate places always have a lifeline?

Think of Arabia, a desert full of sand with plenty of oil. The same applies to Turkana. Nature is a great equaliser, nature is fair and gracious. There is something for everyone. Our well-watered highlands have no minerals!  

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is special. It has everything that we would wish for - minerals, rain forests and rivers. That is why over the years, it has attracted a mixture of characters, benevolent and violent.

Another curious observation is that when it comes to investing, places forgotten by nature seem to do better. Except for tea or coffee plantations, the regions that have attracted lots of investment in agriculture, of all sectors are dry. Naivasha is one of them.

Flowers and vegetables are grown for export, finding their way to supermarkets in Europe. 

Onions, baby corn, lemon grass, basil, cabbages, runner beans, pakchoi, and broccoli among others all grow in Naivasha against the backdrop of Mount Longonot. You will not find such big farms in rainy Nyandarua or Limuru growing such vegetables. That is not a paradox.

A tourist cycles as giraffes cross a dirt road on the outskirts of Lake Naivasha. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

One, the land has been subdivided into small uneconomical pieces.

A visit to the large irrigated farms in Naivasha begs the question. Should we have chopped all the mzungu farms after Uhuru?  Today, it’s paradoxical that the owners of these small farms now find work in the few remaining large farms.

Two, rain is seasonal and cold makes the growing season longer. That would reduce the profits. You would plant fewer times per year.

Distinct advantage

The arid and semi-arid lands have another distinct advantage: There is little competition from other farmers. 

Who really wants to be a farmer in dry Naivasha? The same argument can be extended to large ranches in Laikipia. The farms in such arid conditions and places demand lots of capital.

That reduces competition further. Water for irrigation is expensive, add the power for pumping.

The technology used from greenhouses to irrigation or biotechnology leaves them with few competitors. 

Even the soil must be persuaded to become productive. Compare that with deep volcanic soil in the highlands. 

The farms also focus on premium products such as herbs. They are food items that are unlikely to be grown by ordinary people. Think of it - should peasants grow flowers, herbs or foodstuffs? Back to nature’s graciousness. 

While consumed by pessimism, do we realise that Kenya is among the top countries in generating clean energy from geothermal? We now have about 90 per cent of our energy coming from renewable sources.

Yet we have no time to celebrate. One reason is the belief that our power is expensive. Some truth in that considering that the power produced is above the peak demand.

Economic laws demand that prices should go down. This sector has too many vested interests. Recall that owners of independent power producers (IPPs) could not be named? Visiting a power station at Olkaria makes me wonder how many other such opportunities we have not exploited in Kenya while hypnotised by politicians. 

A geothermal spring next to a manyatta in Olkaria, Naivasha. [File, Standard]

If nature is so fair and gracious, why is there such a big difference in economic growth between counties, countries and regions? Nature’s endowment must be supplemented by our ingenuity. If we do not do that, some regions sprint ahead of others.

Why did Japan become a car manufacturer without iron? How did Italy become a brand in shoes without herds of cattle? Water or steam around Lake Naivasha could lie idle. It needed some ingenious men and women to put it to use beyond fishing and drinking water. It needed some ingenuity to harness the steam from the bowels of the earth, just like nuclear reactors.

Nature can be gracious but our ingenuity must be put into use. Why do we starve with 536km of of coastline? Why do we drive from Mombasa to Lamu along the coast? Naivasha, now famous for weekend escapades is better known for combining nature’s graciousness and our ingenuities.

Why do we drive around this lake? Why no luxury boats?

One big lesson from Naivasha is how the market has worked. Most of the success cases in Naivasha are private initiatives. Why are flowers not embroiled in cases like maize?

Clearly, if let the invisible hand of the market do its work, we shall be surprised. The government should be like a lever helping the invisible hand of the market do more.

It should not be like the harness of the horse. Will Kenya Kwanza, like the Mwai Kibaki regime let economic freedom ring?

What have the other regions done? What can they do? There is no region untouched by nature’s graciousness. Every region has its share of ingenuous people. 

Why should we head to Mombasa for holiday when Lake Victoria (Lolwe) is there, much nearer and from my recent visit, more beautiful and affordable? What is missing in most regions is marrying nature’s graciousness with ingenuity.

Naivasha has done that, attracting even non-Kenyans. Why can’t other regions do the same?   

This requires schooling and accepting that outsiders see opportunities better than locals. Why else is immigration celebrated? Can other counties learn from Naivasha? Think of Naivasha after the dual carriage road reaches there. Been ‘Vasharing’ lately?