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Sewerage turns street boy to a millionaire

06 February 2013, 13:47 Ngarae Elias

George Kanyi could be the only person who boasts of having a reconnection of sorts with whatever goes down the drain.

The former street boy gets his daily bread selling vegetables grown on a rehabilitated dump site that are irrigated using recycled water in Nanyuki town.

Recently, the National Environment Trust Fund declared Kanyi, 50, the winner of its prestigious Presidential Green Award (PGA).

The award came along with a cheque worth KES 3 million.

Created under the Environment Management Coordination Act 1999, the award is meant to be an incentive for good governance and innovative environmental management practices.

Kanyi’s journey to stardom began five years ago when he struck a deal with Nanyuki Water and Sanitation Company to reclaim tens of acres of land that had been used as a garbage site for more than 30 years.

Using recycled sewerage water, he has today turned the garbage site into a vibrant horticultural production centre that employs 12 people on permanent basis and scores of others as casual labourers.

George Kanyi, vegetable farmer

His main market for the vegetable is Nanyuki town.

He also keeps about 3 000 rabbits and grows hay for sale on the same piece of land.

Nawasco technical manager Kennedy Gitonga has about 1 800 cubic metres of raw sewerage that is discharged to the firm’s systems every day.

This effluent normally undergoes through a biological recycling process that involves passing the water through three ponds.

Separation of sludge from water to allow for anaerobic and aerobic decomposition happens in the first pond with the help of sunlight and changes in temperature.

Its takes 87 days for the effluent to get to the secondary pond where chemical reaction allows for flocculation process to occur.

After seven days, the effluent then moves from the secondary pond to the maturation pond.

At this stage, the algae which had formed slowly dies.

Tests are normally carried out at each point of entry and exit before the water is released back to Nanyuki River.

It is this water from the third pond that Kanyi uses to irrigate about 50 acres of land to grow various horticultural crops and fodder.

“Before coming here, the whole area was littered with waste and street children were all over. The area did not have a fence and all manner of waste paper would be blown to the neighboring estate making it inhabitable,” he said.

It took eight months for the water firm to accept his proposal after the garbage piled over a wide area becoming a nuisance especially to the residents of the neighbouring Kilimo estate.

Most of them sold their plots at throw - away prices to escape the area.

Venturing into the area was also risky due to the presence of the street boys.

According to the agreement with Nawasco, Kanyi was to collect the waste and rehabilitate the area for free.

In return, he would be given user rights over the 70 acres of land that is not covered by the sewerage ponds for ten years.

The immediate challenge was removing hundreds of the homeless youths living in the area and convincing the municipal council to help remove the garbage.

“The area was dangerous as muggings and rapes were common. I had to look for a way to remove the street boys who had erected shelters all over,” he recalls.

He rented rooms in the estate and persuaded the youths to move in.

This was in return for a casual employment at the dumpsite.

In two year that followed, the youths would form a formidable team for collecting garbage that was scattered all over.

Driven by a passion to generate an income from the piece of land, Kanyi sold his family’s most precious possession- a plot within Nanyuki town - to get money to start his agricultural undertaking.

“My wife would hear none of it. For the two years that were collecting the garbage she thought I was crazy. Now she has changed her mind,” said Kanyi.

He then started by planting hay which he would harvest after every three months with a production of between 800 and 2 000 bales per harvest.

“After two years, I realized that too many people had moved to hay-growing business and I decided to shift to horticulture,” recalls Kanyi.

The farmer has turned the one-time inhabitable ground into a vibrant model horticultural centre.

University students, farmers, schools among other delegations often visit the site to learn.

Apart from the crops that range from cabbages, lettuce, eggplants and cucumbers, Kanyi also keeps bees.

“This is a sustainable business because there is no time that I will ever lack water to irrigate the land even during the dry season,” he said.

He owes his success to a former Laikipia Airbase commander Stephen Njung’e who rehabilitated him and gave him a chance to clear grass on the sides of the runaway.

He was allowed to sell grass to pastoralists and keep 70 percent of the money.

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