How urban farming is solving city residents’ food problem

In 2015, the Nairobi County Assembly developed the Nairobi City County Urban Agriculture Promotion and Regulation Act.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

When he lost his job as an accountant, Michael Chumo, then a father of two, decided to actualise the agriculture skills from his secondary school.

He planted kales (sukumawiki), spinach, amaranth (terere), coriander (dhania), capsicum, tomatoes and onions in sacks to supplement the family diet.

Luckily for him, the house he was renting was in a spacious compound and the elderly landlady okayed his wife’s request for the initiative.

Being a family of four, they would spend an average of Sh2,400 a month on vegetables only.

Mr Chumo was relieved as the money would now go to other family uses.

While not all tenants may be lucky to get adequate space to practise what is now known as urban agriculture, the practice has been there for many years in urban settlements.

Ms Jedi Surwa recalls how as a young girl she would move alongside her mother as she planted sukuma wiki, cabbages and other greens within the compound where they lived.

Her father worked as a senior clerk with the government and they were housed within one area with other government workers.

To reduce expenses, the women of the civil servants resolved to grow something within the little available space so that what their husbands earned could appropriately be spent. 

In 2015, the Nairobi County Assembly developed the Nairobi City County Urban Agriculture Promotion and Regulation Act.

One of the objectives of the Act is contributing to food security through agriculture development by empowering the residents and institutions to practice subsistence and commercial agricultural activities.

The Act also provides guidelines on ensuring that the crops meet the food safety standards in accordance with the public health and environment laws.

Both animals and crops husbandry is allowed under the Act, including fish farming.

Governing planning

Other operations authorised by the County, which are related to farming, are animal health, disease and pest management practices, biogas production, organic compost and manure production.

According to the Act, urban agriculture in Nairobi may be carried out by means of structures that support agricultural activity, including tool-sheds, greenhouses, livestock structures, fish structures, storage facilities such as silos and hay barns, produce stands and instructional space.

However, those practising urban agriculture must operate within all the other regulations such as governing planning, environment, nuisance and public health.

The United Nations has been urging urban planners to embrace urban agriculture as one of the drivers for sustainable development goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities.

According to a 2021 report by Food Agriculture Organization, 55 percent of the world population lives in cities and other urban settlements and they need 80 percent of food production supplies.

Urban and peri-urban farming, therefore, is going to play a critical role in balancing the supply chain for food and nutrition sustainability.

Mr Peter Bichanga, a resident of Kayole, Nairobi, is a beneficiary of urban farming. From one acre of land leased in Ruai, he has been harvesting six bags of maize and two bags of beans -90kgs each- besides growing vegetables to feed his family.

“I have been able to save money and even sell some of the produce, without which, life would have been hard considering food prices in Nairobi are rising by the day,” he says.

At his rented space in Kayole, he is keeping poultry, supplementing his family’s needs for protein.

Dr Romanus Opiyo, a sustainable urbanisation and planning specialist at Stockholm Environment Institute- Africa Centre maintains that urban farming is the way to go for Africa cities.

“It will enable families to save income and have proper nutrition supplements. With the example of Kenya which is inaugurating new cities and towns through a devolved system, it is easier for planners and architectures to design them with a touch of urban farming which will not inconvenience other urban operations,” he states.

Ms Grace Ojiayo, the Nairobi City Chief Environment Officer, says as an environmentalist, urban agriculture is complementing her role of conservation because of increased green cover owing to farmlands and agro-forestry.

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