URBAN FARMING,  a silver lining to city dwellers

URBAN FARMING, a silver lining to city dwellers

With the erratic rainfall patterns and extreme climate conditions, farmers have recorded crop failures and dismal yields that continue to dent the food security. But in the face of such threats, urban farming is proving to be a silver lining by increasing yields, improving resilience to climate shocks and has become an engine of agricultural transformation.

In Rongai, outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Nyambura Simiyu runs a farm in the back yard of her townhouse. She lives in a gated community which is unlikely place for farming but for her she grows an array of vegetables and herbs.

She is one of the rising numbers of urban Kenyans growing their own food in the city. Urban farming has seen a tremendous resurgence after food supply chains were disrupted during Covid pandemic. With limited space, some city dwellers began growing produce in their kitchen gardens and on their balconies. As food shortage and price hikes pushed several peoples back to their rural homes where food was cheaper and some have unutilized land to grow food crops, Nyambura scaled up her efforts in Nairobi, securing all year round supply of vegetables.

“I have always grown food and am very passionate about farming in urban area and small spaces. After my formal assignment at my work place in 2016, urban farming was the most viable thing for me to engage in. Since I began I have learnt a lot and have really grown.Initially I grew a handful but currently I grow way above 75% of the crops I consume and sell to my neighbors who are my immediate customers. I also, rear chicken, goats and rabbits. Beside the animals supplementing me with an extra income, they provide manure for my crops and rabbit urine which is a fantastic pesticide,” she elucidated.

In 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture launched an initiative to empower 1 million kitchen garden farmers in rural areas and peri-urban areas and many youths have embraced the idea. The initiative aims to cushion vulnerable households by ensuring diet improvement through access to fruits, vegetables and herbs in order to boost immunity.The start up kit consists of a tank with a capacity of 50 litres and a shade net. The kit also has 10gms seeds of various vegetables such as mchicha, spinach, kales, night shade and also some livestock such as rabbits and poultry.As for the farming method, the initiative recommends vertical farming such as multi-storey gardens, hanging gardens and cone gardens for efficiency on space and water management.

The global outbreak of Covid-19 raised concerns about sustainability of food productions and food supply chains. Even though it was a health related problem, its effect was being felt in almost all sectors and the agriculture sector had equally been negatively affected. When key food production and supply systems are hampered with, people having inadequate access to nutritious food the resultant is weak immune system. The agri-nutrition department of the Ministry of Agriculture said that they have been working closely with the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to sensitize Kenyans on the importance of kitchen gardens in providing integral nutrition health.

“Urban farming is rewarding. One of the challenge people have in urban set up is to know their source of food. I don’t have to worry about that because my source of food is certain. Secondly, it is a big money saver; you realize that a good amount of money people make in urban areas is spent on food, I am guaranteed of fresh food because I majorly grow organic. A report sometimes back revealed high levels of toxicity in produce, prompting public concerns over food safety. Highly dangerous pesticides are still used in Kenya, with more than one-third of their active ingredients banned in Europe for potential chronic health effects, environmental hazard and high toxicity ingredients resulting into devastating effects on people’s health and the environment,” she said.

The payoffs of urban farming start and ends with pests and diseases control where Nyambura narrates she has had to adopt companion farming, crop rotation, use of push – pull technology, soil management because crop management is not about spraying to kill the pests.

According to her, companion farming is the practice of growing different plants together for mutual benefit for example maize and beans, while Push–pull technology is an intercropping strategy for controlling agricultural pests by using repellent ‘push’ plants and trap ‘pull’ plants. For example, cereal crops like maize or sorghum are often infested by stem borers. Grasses planted around the perimeter of the crop attract and trap the pests, whereas other plants, like desmodium, planted between the rowsplanted between the rows of maize, repel the pests and control the parasitic plant.

Urban farming is one way of eliminating food shortages in urban centers while reducing over reliance on rural areas to provide food stuffs to an ever increasing population. It makes a big contribution to food security while enhancing climate action. For starters, they should begin small with crops like spinach and spring onions while taking the learning curve one step at a time. Keep learning because we live in an information age, there is a lot of information out here and with world, is mind boggling possibilities.

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