Florence, the story of an eco-preneur

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Meet Florence. She says she is around 70 years old, though she isn’t sure herself.  Only a few teeth can be seen through her beaming smile and she says that means she must be old.  I reckon she is much younger.


Florence lives in the East African Rift Valley in the Highlands above Lake Naivasha, Kenya: the land is poor, as are most of the people. Florence arrived as a refugee with her family to escape the 1992 tribal killings when 5000 people were killed and 75,000 displaced.


She now lives in a tribally-mixed village in a simple homestead. There is shortage of water and until recently there were conflicts over water sharing.  Yet high above in the mountains are the forests which are the water towers for the region.  However, most of the water is lost in run offs, resulting also in land erosion. Landslides are common due to deforestation but the people have nowhere else to go.


Florence has 11 children but left to Nairobi and other cities to escape poverty, her husband left her for the same reason. Since then she has been fending for herself. Florence wrote to WWF some years ago stating that she was below the poverty line. She heard WWF was starting some projects around water resource management and she wanted to participate.


She got a group of women together and they began to dig a reservoir to collect rain water and also the run-off from the mountains.  With a small pump, they would then access the water for drinking and washing.  No longer would they have to tread down dusty, unsafe roads for hours looking for water. With WWF’s help she set up a small greenhouse and began to use some of the water to irrigate crops she had planted inside it.


But many of her neighbors didn’t join her and she admonished them: “I am going from analog to digital, why are you still living analog, come be digital!” She continued to collect more water than she needed, so she began to sell it to neighbors and herders for the cattle.  She began to make money. Word spread and many more of her neighbors began to set up reservoirs and greenhouses with her help,  WWF providing seed funding.


In her greenhouses, Florence grows crops she thinks are going to be profitable and she has flexibility to rotate and change crops from season to season. This season it was tomatoes that were fetching her a great price in the markets. Florence frequently consults with crop experts who pass through the village to inspect diseases; she buys and negotiates the prices of seeds herself.


The tomatoes are expected to bring her at least 4000 euros this season,  a princely sum in these parts.  Florence says: “I am now way above the poverty line. Now, I want to help my community cross the poverty line and teach them how water conservation can improve their lives.”


Florence’s children are back, and she has educated them all.  Her youngest is about to finish university.  Her husband is back too, and she has hired him as a farm hand. Her crops have great yields, which would not be possible in the poor soil outside the greenhouse.


People come to her home to purchase directly for a premium, but she also sends her produce to the local markets for sale. Her community is spread over a “divisional distance” and she has to travel down roads like this to work with 200 other women she is training to do the same.

She travels by bicycle for training workshops, but she says she is getting too old, so she is now learning to ride a scooter.  Often the younger women come to her to learn and for inspiration.  She particularly wants to work with young couples, who can be initiated into the idea that water conservation is not only important but good business.


Florence is thankful to WWF for believing in her and for its support.  She feels she and her community will eventually be standing on their own feet, but needs some more support for the time being; in expertise, money to ensure critical mass is achieved amongst the women in her community, but mainly to connect them to banks from whom they can get a loan, and others who can help in building community businesses.

But for now things are good. Things can always change, of course, but a model is in place that ensures not only sustainable water management in these parts, but which also ensures that people, mainly the women, are core participants that not only benefit economically and socially from it, but also are strong advocates for forestry and water resource management in the region.


Florence calls herself an eco-preneur; an ecological entrepreneur.

All images and text by Pratik Bhatnagar – Director, Network Performance and Evolution, WWF International 


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