What you need to know:
- Within Kapenguria Township in West Pokot County, Kitalaposho Urban Farmers Group go round construction sites to collect waste PVC pipes and they have turned them into vertical kitchen gardens for growing vegetables.
- For these vertical gardens, one needs pipes that are four to eight inches thick in diameter. Holes are then made in a pipe and soil mixed with organic manure is introduced. The pipe is sunk vertically into the ground. Seedlings are then planted in the three inch diameter holes on the pipes.
In Ngaringurwa Village, off Nanyuki – Rumuruti Road and three kilometres to the Ewaso Nyiro River in the heart of Laikipia County, Moses Mwenda, a smallholder farmer, is recycling waste plastic bottles to grow tomatoes on his two-acre piece of land. The plastic bottles are key to the survival of his crop.
The entire semi arid region is dry to a point that even the most resilient thorny shrubs have shed their leaves to adapt to the prevailing climatic conditions. But Mwenda is not bothered about the drought, and he is not concerned about when it will rain next.
“With the waste plastic bottles and a motorbike to fetch water from wherever I can find it, all my farming problems are almost solved,” said the 45-year-old father of three.
Mwenda is using the bottles as water reservoirs for his crop, a labour intensive exercise, but has kept his tomatoes healthy and productive despite the dry and dusty environment that surrounds his farm.
“Each stem of tomato is served with one half litre bottle of water,” he said.
With support of two farmhands and one motorbike rider, the farmer ensures that each bottle is refilled with water at least once every week. The bottles have small holes pocked on the plastic bottle top. Once it is filled with water, the bottle is buried halfway upside down, next to the crop, for the water to start dripping slowly to the roots. The motorbike rider has a duty to move along the dry Ewaso Nyiro River to identify places with water, and where need be, he has to sink shallow wells in sandy places within the riverbed to fetch water that may be stored within.
On the farm, Mwenda notes that it takes him and the two farmhands three days to refill all the bottles on the two-acre piece and after three days of rest, they have to do it again so that each stem has some moisture throughout.
“It is a tedious exercise, but given the changing climatic conditions, we have no choice but to find a way of adapting to it,” he said. Stephen Gichuki, an environmentalist who is managing a project known as Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu Transforming the Environment through Nexus (LISTEN), notes that farmers and communities in areas that are hard hit by climate change have always had indigenous solutions that can be modified to become better, and scaled for adoption in other parts of the country.
“It is encouraging to see that without support of any organisation, Mwenda is making use of waste plastic bottles, which would otherwise be polluting the environment, to adapt to climate change and improve his livelihood by growing high value crops in a water scarce area,” said Gichuki. The LISTEN project is working in the three semi arid counties to strengthen institutional capacities for climate change adaptation at county level, and increase smallholder famers’ knowledge and adoption of climate-smart irrigation technologies and practices along the Ewaso Nyíro basin.
“This is an idea that many other farmers from arid and semi arid areas can borrow and turn around a problem, which is plastic waste, into an opportunity for dryland horticulture,” said Gichuki.
Mwenda sources his plastic bottles from Nanyuki town.
“Now that there is a market for the bottles, there are people who go round collecting them to sell to us at Sh20 per kilogram,” said the farmer.
He said he came up with the idea of bottle-based drip irrigation three seasons ago when rains completely failed and his crop withered and died in the field. “I could not stand the loss and so I thought of an innovative way of keeping my crop alive and that is how I went for the plastic bottles.”
Generally, the bottles do not expose the water to evaporation and so the plant is able to enjoy nearly the entire amount poured in. As well, given that plastics do not easily decompose, the bottles can be recycled for several planting seasons.
Within Kapenguria Township in West Pokot County, Kitalaposho Urban Farmers Group go round construction sites to collect waste PVC pipes and they have turned them into vertical kitchen gardens for growing vegetables. For these vertical gardens, one needs pipes that are four to eight inches thick in diameter. Holes are then made in a pipe and soil mixed with organic manure is introduced. The pipe is sunk vertically into the ground. Seedlings are then planted in the three inch diameter holes on the pipes. A plastic container with one small hole at the bottom that releases a drop of water every two seconds is placed on top of the pipe.
“My main duty is to ensure there is water in the container on top of the pipe and I always refill every two days,” said Selly Mwou, one of the urban farmers in Kapenguria, where most of the residents are pastoralists.
According to Sachen Gudka, the former chair of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, waste is a fact of human life that we cannot run away from.
“However, how we handle it depletes us of our most critical natural resources or, restores, regenerates and enhances our humanity.” The 2021 beverage manufacturer’s survey shows that Kenya produces 40,000 tons of Polyethylene Terephthalate bottles annually, a number that is projected to increase exponentially every year. The recycling rate on the other hand remains at a paltry 20 per cent.
Most of the bottles find their way to waste garbage and end up in landfills, clogging sewage pipes thereby increasing floods particularly in urban areas, while others end up in oceans.
When they are burnt, they produce Persistent Organic Pollutants, hazardous chemicals that damage the planet ecosystem and threaten human health with cancer risk, reproductive disorders, alteration of the immune system, neurobehavioral impairment, endocrine disruption, genotoxicity and increased birth defects.
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), POPs remain intact for a long time, widely distributed throughout the environment, accumulate and magnify in living organisms through the food chain, and are toxic to both humans and wildlife.