The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2009 Finalist

Excellent Development Kenya

Excellent Development Kenya

Water and food security through soil and water conservation

Excellent Development is a UK-registered charity, founded in 2002, working in Kenya with its partner Excellent Development Kenya (EDK), supporting communities to achieve water and food security through soil and water conservation.  Excellent Development will use the St Andrews Prize to enable the community development model and sand dam technology practised by EDK to be replicated in other African countries.

Currently 57 community self-help groups are working with EDK in the Ukambani region of Kenya, which regularly experiences extreme droughts.  In this semi-arid area near the equator, lack of water is the most immediate problem experienced by people every day.  The environment is dry and degraded, and many people spend several hours a day collecting water, making it very hard to find time to work on their farms to produce food.

EDK enables farmers to address these problems by building sand dams, terracing land and planting trees.  These actions significantly improve the conservation of soil and water, creating the potential for farmers to achieve water and food security. 

Sand dams are reinforced concrete walls built across seasonal riverbeds.  During seasonal rains, millions of litres of water are captured and stored under sand that collects behind the dam wall.  These ingenious structures provide a year-round clean water supply at a lower cost than any other water supply solution; they dramatically improve the environment, and save people crucial time.

EDK’s model places sand dams within a strongly community-centred development model, which ensures the project’s longevity.  With minimal maintenance, sand dams will last for over 50 years.  Communities are trained how to do this, and also trained how to make best use of the water they have, through sustainable agricultural techniques.

Climate change threatens to exacerbate the impacts of droughts in semi-arid Africa, meaning that improved water and food supply and local economic strength is needed more than ever.

Excellent Development believes that sand dams are a technology ‘whose time has come’.  Sand dams’ ability to retain clean water in semi-arid areas makes a significant contribution to climate change adaptation and the ability of small-scale agriculture to be sustainable.  The effectiveness of the EDK approach was recognised in 2008 when Excellent Development was named overall winner of the Charity Awards. 

Simon Maddrell, founder and Executive Director of Excellent Development, enthuses: “Sand dams are amazing. We are delighted they are finally getting the recognition they deserve, and thrilled to receive this boost from the St Andrew’s Prize, which will enable other communities to benefit from this incredibly effective development approach.”

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