Ndakaini Team Champions Mix Work and Training in Bid to Win Again

Farm irrigation scheme team ran from meeting to meeting and doubled their kilometres of preparation for Saturday's competition

Nairobi, Kenya | September 10, 2016

For many of the 4,000 runners who have been preparing for Saturday's UAP Old Mutual Ndakaini Half-Marathon, finding time to train amid the pressures of work and family is a major headache. 

But the group champions of the 2015 competition, The Nature Conservancy team, have come up with a novel way to ensure the best chance of defending their title: they mixed their training with their work.

"Part of our job is to visit farmers to ask about their water projects, so we decided to run between every farm as part of our training," says Jane Mbogo, 25, among the fastest of The Nature Conservancy's 10 team members.

"We put on our sports shoes and our track suits, and ran usually two or three kilometres to the first farm, then after we finished our work there, we ran another two or three kilometres to the next farmer, and so on."

Mbogo, who lives in Nyeri with her infant daughter, reckons she ran 15km to 17km a day, and reached 627 different farmers over the last three weeks.

"It gave us much more time for training, and I think will give us a competitive advantage in the race," she says. Mbogo finished in fifth place at the 2016 Safaricom Lewa Half-Marathon, and hopes to beat that time during Saturday's competition. She was part of The Nature Conservancy team at Ndakaini in 2015. 

She works with The Nature Conservancy as part of a team collecting information from 15,000 farmers who are part of a project to store water during the dry season to keep crop fields irrigated without needing to drain rivers and slow national hydropower production.

Together with three other colleagues who are also running on Saturday, Mbogo and the team have logged data from more than 4,800 different water storage pans across the area in less than a month.

The scheme is being piloted in Muranga, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, and Nyandarua counties, which all fall in the watershed of the Tana River. The area supplies Nairobi with 95 percent of its drinking water and produces 65 percent Kenya's hydropower.

More than 9 million Kenyans rely on water supplies from the region, and the Ndakaini Half-Marathon has been held since 2004 to raise funds to protect this very important water catchment.

"What we do is encourage farmers to dig water pans, large excavations lined with plastic that fill with water that is stored to be used during the dry season for crop irrigation," says Fred Kihara, director of the Nairobi Water Fund for The Nature Conservancy.

"That means they take less water from the river, which means more flows to the Masinga Dam, and hydropower production and water supplies for Nairobi are less affected."

Sponsors who rely on clean water and constant power, including Coca Cola and Frigoken, fund the project, called the Nairobi Water Fund, which is projected to cost 100 million shillings per year. It is the first water fund in Africa, although The Nature Conservancy has led the development of more than 30 similar investments in Latin America.

In less than 10 years, it is planned to increase food security for 26,000 farmers, whose income will increase by a third, according to The Nature Conservancy. Other benefits include less sediment in the Masinga Dam, meaning fewer interruptions to power supplies.

At the same time, 10,000 hectares of deforested land will be planted with more than 2 million trees, and more than 100km of river-bank land will be rehabilitated.

Mbogo's job was to visit the farmers in the pilot project and gather data, including the GPS coordinates of their water pans, the state of the supplies stored there, what crops were being grown, and any problems they faced.

The work was rewarding because of how it helped the farmers, she said, but the main benefit was to her. "I'm sure I'm in a better position now and will be ahead of the competition" at the half-marathon, she said.

The Nature Conservancy is a sponsor of the Ndakaini Half-Marathon, and organises a sister event for schools that is held a week before the main competition. This year, 107 teams from 63 schools in the Upper Tana watershed took part in the event, which was held on September 3. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Mike Pflanz
The Nature Conservancy
+254 735 446226

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