Lake Victoria has a mythic past. Long known as the source of the Nile River, its waters sustained some of recorded history’s earliest communities. In the middle ages, traders explored the rich, fertile area in search of gold, ivory, and other precious commodities. Today, though, the Lake Victoria basin—one of the most densely populated rural areas in the world—is known for its pollution and natural resource challenges. Its shores are speckled with cities and towns, and home to factories that discharge their waste directly into the lake and its rivers.

But an innovative partnership may help turn the tide, restoring to Lake Victoria some of its former glory. Through LVEMP, the governments of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the newer East African Community members of Burundi and Rwanda are cooperating to undertake cleaner production activities that will help industries improve the efficient use of resources (such as water, electricity, and raw materials), and reduce pollution throughout the production cycle.

Coordinating cleaner production

The Kenya Cleaner Production Center serves as a regional coordinator, working with similar centers in Tanzania and Uganda (and helping start such centers in Rwanda and Burundi).

Activities include:

  • A survey of industries by key polluting sectors (such as large breweries, sugar, food processing, leather, etc.);
  • Awareness workshops and follow-up training;
  • Plant-level resource efficiency and cleaner production assessments;
  • Identification of measures to improve resource efficiency and reduce pollution; and
  • Recognition of good performers though national and regional awards.

LVEMP’s work has leveraged significant investments. About $3 million of technical assistance has gone to targeted training and assessments for 186 industries in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Of these, 88 adopted cleaner production techniques. In just 30 of these industries, this has leveraged about $82 million in investments and cost savings of $14.5 million annually. Results reward participants with very short pay-back periods, generally ranging from a few months to a couple of years.

Common interventions

Energy: Simple activities, such as placing translucent roofing tiles in factories that let in natural light, have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in electricity bills for large factories. Other investments have included metering, improved electrical control systems and variable speed drives, higher efficiency bulb replacement, wind-driven cyclones, lights on timers, power co-generation, and improved insulation.

Water: Activities include rainwater harvesting, “dry” cleaning or use of pressurized hoses, metering, fixing leaks, condensate recovery, and water recycling.

Wastewater: Activities include improved metering, wastewater treatment, and recycling. Some of these, like chrome recovery, have very short payback periods and significant environmental and public health benefits.

Process Improvements: Other activities include the overall modernization of the production process, resulting in savings of water, wastewater, and energy, and a reduction in materials wastage.

Over time, these activities have demonstrated that the best way to get local, regional, and global environmental benefits from industries is to incentivize and emphasize the financial benefits of such activities.

In the arena of cleaner production, small technical assistance inputs can leverage significant private sector investments. Work like this can be scaled up in the region, but also be replicated far beyond Lake Victoria—which has the potential to once again be recognized as the source of great natural wealth.