Through production of healthy diverse food, HealthyFoodAfrica’s Food System Lab activities in Nairobi will contribute to improved access to and consumption of safe, diverse and nutritious foods by vulnerable populations in the informal settlements, including children and women.

Authors: David Osogo, Maureen Gitagia, Allan Musumba, Antonina Mutoro and Elizabeth Kimani-Murage

Recycled plastic containers being used for vertical farming by Maisha girls group in Viwandani, Nairobi.
Recycled plastic containers being used for vertical farming by Maisha girls group in Viwandani, Nairobi.

The final decade of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has arrived. As we near the 2030 target for eradication of hunger, many countries globally are lagging behind. According to the most recent Global Hunger Index report (2021), 47 countries are likely to miss the zero hunger target as envisioned under SDG 2. Kenya’s hunger index is classified as ‘serious’ in the report. About one in every four children under the age of five years in Kenya are stunted, 11 % underweight and 4 % wasted. The rates are even higher especially in urban slums where the majority of the population lives. For example, in Nairobi, approximately 70% of the population lives in slum areas where close to half of the children under the age of five years are chronically malnourished. This can partly be attributed to high levels of food insecurity as about 8 out of every 10 households are food insecure.

The Kenyan constitution provides for the right to food in article 43 (1) (c), stipulating that: “Every person has the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quality.” This is also anchored in international statutes to which Kenya is a signatory, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), among others. Despite these provisions, this fundamental right is yet to be realised for many Kenyans.

Food System Lab and Community Organized Groups

In its contribution towards attainment of the SDG 2 and the right to food, the African Population and Health Research Centre’s (APHRC) Zero Hunger Initiative developed a 2050 vision for Nairobi. The actualization of this vision has taken a multi-faceted approach including the promotion of urban farming and women and youth empowerment. The HealthyFoodAfrica project, specifically the Food System Lab for Nairobi (FSL-Na) is one of the projects under the initiative. The FSL-Na is piloting innovative approaches that promote access to safe and nutritious food for the young children, women and adolescents and other community members in Korogocho and Viwandani informal settlements. This involves testing the feasibility and effectiveness of innovative urban farming in the communities as well as the feasibility of interventions aimed at curbing unhygienic food handling among food handlers.

Pallet gardening being undertaken by Kingstone CBO in Viwandani.
Pallet gardening being undertaken by Kingstone CBO in Viwandani.

APHRC is currently supporting 21 Community Organized Groups (COGs), consisting of women and youth groups, from Korogocho and Viwandani slums to implement the urban farming component. The COGs were recruited through a competitive process and have previously worked in these communities on a variety of issues, including, but not limited to, food production. This collaboration has enabled us to pilot our initiative and improve their work.

Community Organized Groups in Food System Lab Nairobi.
Community Organized Groups in Food System Lab Nairobi.

The COGs underwent comprehensive capacity building and training on urban farming before the implementation of the intervention. City Shamba and Resources Oriented Development Initiative (RODI-Kenya), our key local technical partners on implementation, provided the training, supported by Nairobi County Agriculture Extension Officers. They are offering continuous mentoring to the groups as they set up the urban gardens. The groups have since set-up urban gardens in their respective sites, which serve as resource and learning centers for the community members who visit and interact with the innovative technologies being utilized in the farms.

Some groups are practising vegetable farming, growing sukuma wiki (kales), onions, tomatoes, spinach and traditional leafy vegetables such as cowpeas, saga, amaranth and African nightshade. They are using innovations such as sack gardens, pallet gardens, staircase gardens, hanging gardens, raised bed gardens, wall boxes, and cone gardens. One group is piloting a hydroponics system for crop production. A few groups are practicing poultry farming. The gardens that were set up approximately two months ago are now thriving, some groups have even started harvesting vegetables which are either shared among group members and with the surrounding communities or sold for income. For example, VICCO have reported sharing their produce with local neighbouring schools and selling excess to the local community.

Hydroponic system being used by Komb green group in Korogocho.
Hydroponic system being used by Komb green group in Korogocho.

Following steps

In the next few months, the COGs will conduct active community sensitization and capacity building on the importance of urban farming, available innovative techniques applicable in their own spaces and demonstrations on how it’s practically done. They will then support individual community members to establish their own gardens in their little spaces, offering progressive support supervision. This is projected to increase the adoption of urban farming among individual community members, resulting in increased production of healthy and nutritious food to feed the households. Those with larger spaces could potentially produce enough for their own consumption and for sale and/or sharing with others. Producing one’s food not only provides a source of healthy food, saves money and may be a source of income, but also gives the community power to have control over their food affairs, contributing positively to building a resilient and sustainable food system. We are currently at an advanced stage with preparations to kick-off our food safety interventions working with the vendors.

Importance of stakeholders

In the spirit of the systems approach, and in recognition of the complexity of the food system, we are cognizant of the fact that we cannot achieve much by walking alone. We have therefore proactively involved various stakeholders in this journey. The COGs, as already mentioned, are one of our key stakeholders. We have also actively engaged the community leadership through the Community Advisory Groups, the government administrative structure through the National Government Administration Officers (NGAO), the Nairobi County’s Department of Agriculture and Public Health and National Government’s Ministries of Agriculture and Health. Through our Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group forum, which was created last year, we also engage with other key stakeholders including researchers from academia, policy makers, private sector actors and civil society.

FSL Nairobi keeps working for the zero hunger target

Through production of healthy diverse food, the FSL-Na activities will contribute to improved access to and consumption of safe, diverse and nutritious foods by vulnerable populations in the informal settlements, including children and women. The FSL initiatives will also empower women and youth through capacity building and boosting of skill sets, savings made through production of own food and potential income from sales of produce. We keep marching majestically towards the zero hunger target finish line and hope to be there in record time!

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