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Sack gardens bring nutrition, revenue to Kenyan slum

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A smiling Jane Lihanda stands outside her shanty in Nairobi's Kibera slum admiring her "sack garden." She has just finished plucking sukuma wiki (kales) and spinach for lunch. When almost everyone is complaining of soaring food prices, Ms. Lihanda is harvesting vegetables at her doorstep.

Many doorsteps in Kibera today are flanked by earth-filled sacks planted with kales, spinach, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables, thanks to a small-scale urban agriculture project funded by the French government and run by a French NGO.

Beneficiaries say it has become a source of income as well as food. Those with more sacks sell the surplus vegetables. Mary Anyango, who has "six gardens," or six sacks, uses what she harvests from three sacks and sells the rest. Her family of five feeds on one sack of sukuma wiki for three days whenever the harvest is ready.

"When we get around to the third sack, the first one is ready for fresh harvesting," she says. The other three sacks earn her about Ksh120 ($1.90) a week, enough to buy charcoal and cooking fat. Her husband, who does casual jobs in Nairobi's Industrial Area, now only needs to budget for maize flour and the monthly house rent of Ksh400 ($6.30). "Life is a little better for us now," she says. "It is not like in January when going without food was the order of the day."

An initiative of Solidarites, a French non-governmental organisation, the project is part of the French government's response to the humanitarian crisis and violence in Kiambu and Kibera slums that followed the December 2007 election.

The project involves planting vegetable seedlings on the sides of earth filled sacks that are placed on rooftops or doorsteps. Each family receives one to three sacks filled with earth and 6,000 families are now cropping tomatoes, onions, kales or spinach. One single sack can contain 50 seedlings of kales or spinach and 20 tomato plants. 

A nursery has been established in Makina village where people can collect seedlings and see a demonstration site in action. Vegetables are used directly and indirectly by the household to obtain food, access cash when needed and educate children. On average, each household increased its weekly income of $5US. Given that in Kibera, house rent is around $6 US/month, this is an important source of income.

"With this project, nobody, especially among the womenfolk, has any excuse to be idle," says Agnes Ndalo, one of the beneficiaries. "The traditional housewife who would spend hours on end in a neighbour's house in fruitless banter is no longer here. Women are busy tending their sack gardens, replacing dead seedlings or watering them."

Asha Zaidi, a trainer and community mobiliser, says the project has reached all the eight villages in Kibera and women are busier than ever before working on their gardens. Ms Zaidi, who teaches residents how to prepare the gardens, says they have trained and given out seedlings to about 3,000 people in each village and the demand is growing.

Area chief Francis Owino Waneno says the project has boosted food security in the slum. "People can now eat and in some cases sell their own produce and that means a lot to dwellers of this slum," he says, noting that Kibera was hard hit by food shortages early this year. Currently, the greatest challenges are thieves who harvest vegetables at night, and goats who sometimes destroy vegetables.

Solidarites strongly believe that urban agriculture should be one of the pillars of the food security strategy in the coming years. When the main limiting factor is the lack of land, to have a garden in a sack is a great opportunity. Solidarites is currently looking for possibilities to replicate the same kind of projects in others slums in Nairobi and also in other countries.

Contact: Peggy Pascal, Référent sécurité alimentaire et évaluatrice, Solidarités, 50 rue Klock, 92110 Clichy.

This story was prepared from several sources: a story entitled Kenya: Garden in a Sack, by Francis Ayieko, dated 2 June 2008, and a news release entitled Garden in a Sack from www.solidarites.org. The pictures in the story come from the Solidarites website. For more about sack gardening in Kibera, see: A Garden in a Sack: Experiences in Kibera, Nairobi, written by Peggy Pascal and Eunice Mwende of Solidarités and published in Urban Agriculture magazine (21) January 2009. For a story about both sack gardening and water treatment in Kibera, see "Kibera Slums", posted Nov. 4, 2009 on the White Three blog which focuses on shelter, water and agriculture.




For other stories about Kibera, see:

Young people create new life and lush urban garden in former Kibera waste dump

Solar water disinfection saves lives, money in largest Kenyan slum

Waste-burning community cooker solves many problems in Kenyan slum

Bag farming brings food, new way of life to former offenders in Kenyan slum

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