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Women in Kenya's Mathare slum turn their tin roofs into vegetable gardens

15 April 2016, 15:13

Nairobi (Xinhua) -- "Stories have been told, photos taken, but all have shown the suffering and the challenges we people living in the slums go through. No one sees anything positive or thinks something good can come out of Mathare slums," said Gladys Wamuhu or Mama mboga (vegetable lady) as she's fondly referred by her neighbours.

Wamuhu, a mother of four, knows no other home. She was born and bred in Mathare slums in Nairobi and this is where she also met her suitor and now her husband with whom they have been blessed with four children.

Wamuhu quit her job as a cook in a school and now prides herself as a farmer. Despite having no land to till in the slums, she has proved that necessity is the mother of innovation.

"I am a farmer by my own standards and there's no difference between the kind of farming we have here in slums and what other farmers in other parts of the country do," she told Xinhua.

Behind overlapping shanties and overcrowded streets in the slums, is a novel roof gardening project that has been feeding over 100 households while providing income to slum women struggling to make ends meet at a time when food prices especially in urban areas have been on an unprecedented highs.

The "gardens", Wamuhu said, are mounted on top of small structures, some as small as 10 by 10 meters, which are the standard structures in the area and which accommodate on average five family members.

"We plant our crops in assorted jerry cans and from them, we are able to eat fresh uncontaminated vegetables every day. At times we have more than we can eat, so we sell even in the neighbouring leafy suburbs of Muthaiga," June Kageni, 35, Wamuhu's neighbour who has taken up this form of farming, said.

Wahumu and Kageni are the pioneers of this form of farming in Mathare slums.

According to Wamuhu, she saves 20 shillings daily which she should have spent in buying vegetables now that she crops her own.

"I realized complaints and agonizing over land scarcity will never solve our problem, so I woke one day and decided to use what I have. Most of the people I shared my idea with thought it was a crazy idea, but they now lack words to thank me. We also agreed to save the money we used to spend on food together and we hope one day it will be enough to buy a piece of land in future," she told Xinhua as she watered her newly planted spinach.

During the rainy season, the farmers harvest more than they need and Wakulima market in the Central Business District is one of the markets where they sell their vegetables.

Farming, Wamuhu said, is not just about land, but also minds. Together with few of her friends, they have traversed several informal and formal settlements in the country to sell this noble idea. Thanks to them, this kind of farming is now a hit in Korogocho slums in Nairobi.

Apart from saving 20 shillings they used to spend on vegetables daily, the women feed their families and earn an extra coin from selling kales and onions in neighbouring Muthaiga suburb.

"Most of my clients are home guards and house maids residing in servant quarters in Muthaiga," she said.

On her part, Kageni said in a good week, she earns 1,000 shillings from selling vegetables.

"Now I'm assured that my family can never go hungry with or without money," she added.

Iron sheet farming and hanging gardens practised in Mathare and Korogocho slums are some of the urban farming techniques that are slowly adding to a raft of measures put in place to guarantee food security and nutrition in informal settlements.

Urban agriculture has been touted as one of the measures that could cushion the poor against starvation if adopted and done well.

Even in large, congested cities, the urban poor often have a home garden or raise small animals as part of a coping strategy.

This form of urban production, often done by women can complement household incomes and improve the quality of urban diets.

But even with this success, challenges like city council regulations, lack of information on crop diseases and calamities have been some of the setbacks the farmers have had to deal with.

Across Kenya, an estimated 1.5 million people are acutely food insecure and research from the International Fund for Agricultural Development suggests that a large number of households in Kenya limit their food intake to one or two meals a day.

Nairobi, like many other African cities, is experiencing rapid urbanisation, and urban food insecurity is on the rise.

- Xinhua


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