The Power of Natural Infrastructure

The Caterpillar Foundation believes that investing in natural infrastructure is one of the key ways we can restore our local ecosystems and help global communities grow stronger, more resilient and more sustainable.

One example of the power of natural infrastructure is the Tana River in Kenya, which serves as a driving force in the country’s economy and the livelihood of residents who live along it. It supplies 95 percent of the water for millions who rely on the watershed, feeds one of the country’s most important agricultural areas and provides half of the country’s hydropower output.

However, ongoing deforestation practices and water mismanagement have threatened the watershed, leaving 60 percent of Nairobi’s residents without access to a reliable water supply. This is because forests on steep hillsides and areas of wetlands have been converted to agriculture, removing the natural areas for storing runoff water and soil. As rain falls over farms, soils are washed down into the river, reducing the productivity of farmland and sending sediment into the water that cause complete service disruptions for days or weeks at a time.

As these challenges grow, they require innovative solutions to protect the Tana River and provide positive benefits for the surrounding communities.

To address this need, the Caterpillar Foundation joined a group of partners in 2017 to support The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund, which enables public and private downstream water users to jointly invest in upstream land conservation with the aim of reducing erosion, improving water quality and regulating water supply. Water funds are built on the principle that it is cheaper to prevent water problems beginning at the source, than it is to address them further downstream. The benefits of the Water Fund are widely felt within the local community by providing support for female farmers, along with farmers over 60, through a larger subsidy that goes towards the cost of soil and water conservation measures.

Water funds pose a unique solution because they work with local communities to restore local ecosystems and protect biodiversity, producing long-term results. The Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund serves as a model for leaders across the continent who are looking for innovative ways to solve water challenges. In fact, the successes of the Water Fund have allowed TNC to launch the Greater Cape Town Water Fund in 2018, to combat water scarcity and reclaim lost water in the region.

TNC’s work exemplifies the Foundation’s beliefs that by restoring ecosystems and protecting our natural infrastructure, we can improve the quality of life of those who rely on these resources and help empower communities with the tools they need to thrive. Together, we can help build stronger and more resilient communities.

Watch the video about TNC Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund here.