What you need to know:
- Njiru Feminists Network, comprising 25 women based in Siranga informal settlement in Nairobi, has adopted hydroponics.
- The farming technique involves growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil.
As the country grapples with the high cost of living, women living in urban areas have turned to innovative farming methods for incomes and daily sustenance.
Njiru Feminists Network, a group of 25 women based in Siranga informal settlement in Nairobi, has adopted hydroponics, a farming technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil.
The women show us a set of interconnected waste pipes that occupy a quarter of the little piece of land belonging to one of their members. Siranga, like most informal settlements in Nairobi, experiences water shortages and receives low annual rainfall.
Getrude Wahu, one of the members, explains to Nation.Africa why they decided to invest in urban farming.
“I sell plastics in Nairobi and on a day like this, I have not even made Sh200.That amount of money is only enough for a packet of maize flour. I thought growing our own food would supplement our diets and increase our incomes,” she says.
The women began the project in January by purchasing 360 sukuma wiki (collard greens) seedlings for Sh100 each, a water tank, pipes, pumice, coconut peat and metal planks. The total cost of the project was about Sh100,000, which they raised from their savings and contributions from well-wishers.
Also read: Hydroponics, easy way to grow fodder, veges
“Water was a major challenge for us, so we opted to harvest rainwater that we recycle for our farm. If we were to purchase water, we would have to spend at least Sh1,500 a week, which would reduce our profits.”
Since they use hydroponics, they have to treat the rainwater with baking soda so that its pH remains between 5.5 and 6.5. Margaret Wanjiru, another member, adds that if the water is too alkaline, the sukuma wiki would not grow well.
The water is then pumped to the recycled waste pipes through small pipes at least three times a day. The waste pipes are connected in an S pattern such that water flows through every plant hole before it is channelled back into the water tank. This way, they conserve and recycle water.
“Instead of soil, we use a mixture of pumice and coco peat because soil would require a lot of water and doesn’t hold water for long,” Agnes Muteo, also a member, adds.
Ms Wahu also revealed that most women live on small pieces of land with no room for traditional methods of farming. The hydroponics method allows them to plant a lot of crops in a small area.
“Our setup has 380 plant heads, which, in total, produce about 200 kilogrammes of sukuma wiki in a week. We sell a kilogramme for Sh40, which translates into about Sh8,000 a week and Sh32,000 a month,” she says.
Half of the proceeds is shared out by members, while the other half is reinvested. The women can now supplement their families’ diets with nutritious food from their farm and help buy pads for about 10 girls that they also support. They would like to set up the hydroponics farm at each member’s home and diversify their crops.