Agroforestry, Upper Tana Watershed

The Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund (UTNWF) project is the first water fund in Africa, which aims to use green infrastructure such as forests and wetlands to address the root cause of diminishing water quantity and quality in the region. The project is using a combination of agroforestry techniques (including fruit orchards, alley cropping and boundary planting) to restore forest habitat and prevent further agricultural expansion that damages water supplies. They have worked with over 165,000 local farmers to plant over 3 million trees to stabilise soils, sequester carbon, and improve the income security of local farmers.

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Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund Trust


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A view of an agroforestation field in Kenya

The Earthly Rating

Industry-first holistic project assessment

Upper Tana received the Earthly Rating of 8.0, Carbon 8.3, Biodiversity 7.9, and People 7.8

To provide a comprehensive assessment of projects, we analyse 106 data points, aggregating information across the three vital pillars of carbon, biodiversity and people. Projects in Earthly's marketplace all exceed a minimum score of 5/10.

UTNWF Project's impact so far



Hectares of agroforestry systems implemented



Trees planted



Farmers employed to do soil and water conservation on farmlands

Project information

UTNWF Project

The UTNWF project is located in the Upper Tana watershed of the Tana River, Kenya’s longest river at around 1000km, covering an area of over 10,000 square kilometres. As Africa’s first water fund, the project is based on the principle that it is more economical and efficient to prevent water problems with green infrastructure such as forests and wetlands that address the root cause of the issue rather than relying on grey infrastructure, such as water treatment plants that only address the symptoms of the issue. Agricultural expansion in the Upper Tana watershed has led to erosion and increased sedimentation in waterways, reducing the quantity and quality of water available to downstream users.

By working in partnership with local farmers to create Farm-Specific Action Plans (FSAPs), the project introduces an array of agroforestry techniques. These include fruit orchards, alley cropping, enrichment fallows, dispersed tree interplanting, and boundary planting. To date, the initiative has resulted in the planting of more than 3 million trees across over 150,000 hectares. This not only stabilizes the soil and enhances farmer earnings but also offers essential habitats for various species and aids in water quality improvement development of Farm-Specific Action Plans (FSAPs) developed in coordination with each local farmer, the project will implement a combination of agroforestry systems, including fruit orchards, alley cropping, enrichment fallows, dispersed interplanting and boundary planting. So far, the project has planted over 3 million trees on over 150,000 hectares to stabilize soils, improve farmer incomes, provide crucial habitat for biodiversity, and improve water quality.

Sustainable Goals

  • no poverty
  • zero hunger
  • good health
  • quality education
  • gender equality
  • clean water
  • clean energy
  • economic growth
  • infrastructure
  • reduced inequality
  • sustainable cities
  • responsible consumption
  • climate action
  • life below water
  • life on land
  • peace justice
  • partnerships
Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund Logo

Developer Information

The UTNWF project is coordinated by the Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund Trust, which was registered as a fully incorporated charitable trust in 2017. The trust’s mission is to conserve the Upper Tana River watershed into perpetuity and to restore its ecosystems, maintain biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services, and improve water quantity and quality for the inhabitants of the region. The Trust works with other NGOs such as the Catholic Diocese of Murang’a and the local government on project implementation.

Project Benefits

Why this project?

The Upper Tana watershed supplies 95% of the water for Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The watershed provides water for 9 million people and the Masinga hydropower system that generates 40% of Kenya’s electricity.

Forests and wetlands are crucial for maintaining water quality and quantity by filtering runoff water and sediment. Since the 1970s, forests and wetlands in the region have been cleared for agricultural production. Around 60% of the land in the watershed is now used for agriculture. On top of this, soil erosion has contributed to the loss of soil fertility and thus declines in crop yields and farmer incomes.

The expansion of agriculture has increased sedimentation levels, reducing the capacity of reservoirs. At the same time, demand for irrigation water in the area has increased, placing even more strain on the region’s water supplies.

The project seeks to maintain a vibrant and secure water supply for both Nairobi's capital and the surrounding area. Their work aims to address the root causes of water issues in the region, namely the agricultural expansion, by promoting agroforestry systems that reduce the damage done by agriculture while improving livelihoods and biodiversity outcomes.

A view of an agroforestry field in Kenya

Great for Earth

The project protects and expands crucial habitat for endemic plant species such as the Meru Oak and African cherry trees. So far, over 3 million agroforestry trees have been planted, covering an area of over 150,000 hectares.

In addition, the project is improving ecosystem connectivity by restoring vegetation along road shoulders and terraces, which will further reduce runoff and hold moisture on farms to increase crop yields. This has provided crucial habitat and ecosystem connectivity for iconic fauna such as African elephants, cape buffaloes, leopards, colobus monkeys and mountain bongo antelopes.

Lastly, the project activities are reducing runoff and sedimentation in rivers, streams and lakes, which improves water quality and is expected to benefit over 1900 freshwater fauna species.

A farmer in Kenya

Positive for People

The project was developed and is run by local community members and farmers. Now, over 165,000 smallholder farmers are involved. Before project activities began, they conducted a detailed socioeconomic baseline assessment to fully understand the conditions in the area and to be able to monitor the progress over time. As the organisation is volunteer-led, all revenue from carbon credits is channeled into project activities. The project aims to raise productivity and incomes by 30% by 2025 compared to the initial 2017 baseline.

The project has already undertaken significant investments, including the in drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting pans, to enhance both the quantity and quality of potable water. To date, over 15,000 rainwater harvesting kits have been set up.

The project is working to enhance results for essential ecosystem services. This includes a reduction in the risk of flooding and erosion, the improvement of food and nutrition security through the development of fruit orchards, and predictions of an 11% increase in water availability for Nairobi. Additionally, it is expected to decrease sediment levels in nearby rivers by 16%.

Lastly, the project is taking measures to promote gender equality. By investing in biogas systems, they are working to decrease unpaid labor time for women. A deliberate effort is being made to include more women in the program. Initially, the project was supported by 39% female-led households, a figure that stands in contrast to the regional average of 24%.