David Osogo, Maureen Gitagia, Allan Musumba Antonina Mutoro and Elizabeth Kimani-Murage Nairobi.

This year, the African Population and Health Research Center that operates the HealthyFoodAfrica project’s Food System Lab in Nairobi, is celebrating 20 years of existence. Over the years, researchers have generated a lot of evidence on the food and nutrition security situation in the urban informal settlements, with a focus on Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Despite differences in research questions, methodology, sample sizes, and participants, all evidence points to one direction: a fragile food system characterized by high food insecurity, high malnutrition rates, and poor health. While engaging the communities on the importance of improving child nutrition through optimal breastfeeding and child care, Dr Kimani-Murage, a Senior Research Scientist at APHRC, was once stunned by community members blatantly retorting that ‘We cannot eat that thing you call good care!’. This was a turning point for her and it inspired her and the team to focus more on practical solutions and was encouraged to pilot innovative transformative interventions.

How bad is the situation? We are talking about settlements where 8 in every 10 households are food insecure and about half of the children under five years are chronically undernourished. In our previous work, the public engagement project on the right to food and the COVID-19 and human right to food, we documented stories of food insecure people and highlighted strategies they used to cope including: scavenging at dump sites for food,  sex-for-food, skipping meals, begging and stealing. The COVID-19 project specifically showed increased vulnerability to food insecurity, as well as increased hunger. The two studies identified innovative urban farming as a potential solution to food insecurity.

Urban farming in Nairobi
An urban farm owned and managed by a community organized group in Viwandani informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. Through the Healthy Food Africa project, APHRC supported community organized groups to set up farms.

Urban farming to transform the food systems

Driven by the urgent need for transformation of the urban food systems Dr Kimani-Murage and her team created a vision dubbed, ‘Restoring Nairobi to a place of cool waters’. This vision aims to achieve a food-secure, well-nourished, and healthy population, living in a green, clean and healthy environment, in peace and harmony in the spirit of “Ubuntu” by 2050, through a transformative, regenerative, human-centered food system. Our vision won the Rockefeller Foundations’ 2050 Food Systems Vision Prize in 2020. One of the pillars of actualization of the vision is agro-ecological urban farming which is the core of the Food Systems Lab (FSL) for Nairobi under the Healthy Food Africa project.

The FSL contributes to the larger vision of creating urban food systems that are resilient, regenerative, nourishing and inclusive. We have been working closely with 21 women and youth groups spread out in Korogocho and Viwandani informal settlements with support from two partner organizations, Resources Oriented Development Initiative (RODI Kenya) and City Shamba. The groups are practicing crop and small livestock (poultry) farming to feed themselves and their families, and their communities in general. The main crops currently produced are Sukuma wiki (kales), spinach, traditional African leafy vegetables, and onions among others.

The groups have started harvesting produce which is consumed by the group members, sold in the local markets or distributed for free to neighbors and other community members such as schools and feeding centers. This positive progress is a welcome indicator for the project as it is already contributing to the FSL’s objectives of increased production and consumption of safe and diverse foods and women and youth empowerment through agribusiness. We have also seen sharing in the spirit of Ubuntu, which is a key tenet of our vision.

We are well on course to successful achievement of our objectives and a proof to the world of the enormous potential of urban farming towards the transformation of the food systems to make them more nourishing, inclusive, resilient and sustainable.

Capacity Strengthening session in Viwandani. Community organized groups were trained on production of organic manure.
Capacity Strengthening session in Viwandani. Community organized groups were trained on production of organic manure.

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