The joke that Nairobi's vegetables are greener than those grown on farms in the countryside because they are grown in sewage is, sadly, real, the Nation can now confirm.
Hundreds of thousands of Nairobi residents are facing a potential health crisis as a result of eating vegetables growing on raw sewage in Shiranga, Dandora Estate, where sewers have become a source of income for local urban farmers who use them to grow food.
They are so serious about the business that they have turned a concrete slab in which the sewer pipes are built into a footbridge, risking their lives as they use it to access the farms every day.
The stench from the sewage that "nourishes" the vegetables is enough to make one's insides go septic, but hunger and the desire to make a quick shilling makes the residents endure the stench and go about their business with nonchalance.
Several sewer lines in Nairobi County converge in Dandora before continuing down to Ruai and the unintended footbridge that is actually part of the sewer system.
Beneath the 'footbridge', residents have blocked some of the drains and deliberately diverted the sludge and sewage into their farms.
The resulting produce, which includes a variety of vegetables such as kale, spinach, cabbage, pumpkin leaves and onions, is then transported to sales outlets and ends up on the plates of thousands of unsuspecting customers, posing a high risk of infection with water-borne diseases.
Residents are also wary of the proximity of the sewerage to their homes, saying the stench and the leakage of some of the murky water into their homes is making them sick.
"We are really suffering because of the raw sewage flowing near our houses. Our children get sick from time to time and we are asking the government to look into these issues for us," said a resident on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Another resident said they live in constant fear because the diverted sewers pass very close to their homes and in the event of an overflow, their homes will be flooded by the waste water.
Crossing the concrete sewer system — the ‘footbridge’ providing a shorter access to essential services that are only available on the other side of the sewer system — is a risky affair, and residents say some people have died after falling into the sludge that is several feet deep.
"From here (Shiranga) we have no way of going to the other side of Saika, this sewage system is the shortcut. We have to cross here to get to Mama Lucy Hospital because we have no fare for matatus," said another resident.
The Nairobi Rivers Commission (NRC) has said that improving the situation in the affected area is part of its plans to clean up the city’s rivers.
"This is a sanitation issue, where does the sewage go, how many sewer lines are there, are they big enough, are they repaired? They are not and so the issue of sanitation is a serious issue because this sewage ends up in the Nairobi River," said Mr Dancun Ochieng', a commissioner at the NRC.
The Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company is also planning to expand the sewerage to reduce pressure on the existing lines. This, it says, will solve the problem of bursting sewer lines.
"There is a programme where we have received money from the African Development Bank to upgrade this main. It is an ongoing work. The last time the sewers were upgraded was in 1987 and they are now eroded," he said.