Authors: David Osogo, Hilda Owii, Antonina Mutoro, Faith Kathoka and Elizabeth Kimani-Murage
Malnutrition remains a serious public health challenge in slums of Nairobi. Malnutrition is attributable to limited access to adequate, safe and nutritious food. Evidence generated by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) points to high levels of food insecurity and undernutrition especially among young children, women and adolescents in Korogocho and Viwandani slums in Nairobi. Slum residents are also largely exposed to food safety risks owing to their reliance on food purchased from vendors who operate in unsanitary conditions. Food vendors also lack proper storage and preservation facilities – a key factor leading to food wastage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded these challenges by significantly disrupting the supply of, and access to adequate, safe and nutritious food. In order to address these challenges, innovative and sustainable food production practices, and a public mind-set shift to healthy diets are required. Food vendors are also an important entry point to improving food security and safety in urban poor settings.
Collaborative process for shared visions and ownership
In HealthyFoodAfrica project, APHRC is designing and running the Nairobi Food System Lab which will promote access to safe and nutritious foods for young children, women and adolescents among other community members in urban poor settings in Nairobi.
Our Food System Lab forms part of the larger Nairobi Food System Vision which is aimed at “ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition in Nairobi by 2030” while promoting planetary health. Our lab is a collaborative research process which aims to identify and implement innovative urban farming and food safety interventions with an aim of promoting a sustainable food system in urban poor settings. This collaborative process is structured around a series of engagements with key representatives in the food security sector, including: national and county government departments, community members and their leaders, women and youth groups, urban farming experts, food vendors, the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and communities in urban poor settings in Nairobi.
Multi-stakeholder sensitization and deliberation meetings aimed at developing mutual ownership, and shared visions and interests are already underway with a section of the target stakeholders including Mazingira Institute, an NGO which promotes urban farming; Resource Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI), an NGO with expertise in agro-ecological urban farming and youth and women empowerment through agribusiness; senior national and county-level nutrition and agricultural officers; community-based organizations practicing urban farming; and local community leaders in urban poor settings in Nairobi.
Communities and households on board
In parallel to these stakeholder alliances, the Nairobi Food System Lab will be working with community organized groups: establish urban farms in available spaces including schools and idle public land in selected urban poor areas in Nairobi. Our Food System Lab will also promote farming at household level in the urban poor settings. Vegetables and fruits will be grown in vertical gardens that maximize yield on small spaces using innovative technologies. Small animals such as poultry and rabbits will also be reared. Farm inputs, seed grants and training will be provided to kick start the engagement of youth and women groups in urban farming, both as a means of livelihood and nourishment. We will also identify and pilot food preservation and food safety interventions among food vendors with the aim of mitigating food waste and risks posed by unhygienic food handling practices in the target sites. Combined, the FSLs activities will not only promote food and nutrition security, health and the environment but also trigger community ownership through the co-creation process. This will strengthen public engagement around production and consumption of healthy and nutritious foods.
Changing the ways of how food is produced and consumed
Ultimately, the Nairobi Food System Lab envisions an improved food system that is resilient and self-sustaining and that makes it possible for urban poor residents in Nairobi to access, grow and consume healthy food in their own localities. By 2024, when the HealthyFoodAfrica project ends, we want to promote greater food diversity, food safety through improved packaging, preservation and handling practices, and empowerment of women and youth in Nairobi. We are hopeful that by this time, our Nairobi Food System Lab will have changed the way we produce and consume food in an effort to achieve the interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of poverty reduction (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2) and better health (SDG 3), and the goals aimed at promoting planetary health by 2030.