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Fostering Global Citizenship

Kenyans Attack Food Insecurity with Urban Farms and Sack Gardens

NEW YORK, May 19 2015 (IPS) - In the midst of one of Africa’s largest slums, vegetables are growing.

It began as a French initiative to support jobless youth after a spasm of post-election violence in 2008 – and feed them at the same time.

The ‘garden-in-a-sack’ concept, introduced by the NGO Solidarites International, makes it possible to grow food in small spaces and save money for other purchases. In Mathare, Kiambiu and Kibera slums, with close to 3 million inhabitants, Solidarités has brought sack-gardening to about 22,109 households, directly benefitting over 110,000 people.

The upright urban farms in Kibera consist of a series of sacks filled with manure, soil and small stones that enable water to drain. From the tops and sides of these sacks, referred to as multi-story gardens, Kibera farmers grow kale, spinach, onions, tomatoes, vegetables and arrowroot which sprout from the tops and sides.

Today, Kibera has thousands of sack gardens spread across 16 villages in the slum, according to Douglas Kangi, principal agricultural officer on the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Project at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Across Africa, informal growing operations are expected to become critical in the coming years. With a constant stream of people leaving the farms for the cities, the continent’s urban population is set to top 700 million by 2030 up from 400 million today and 53 million in 1960, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

City farming, either in sacks or on small bits of land, has taken root in Cameroon, Malawi and Ghana with 25 to 50 percent of all city households said to be engaged in food cropping. In Malawi, 700,000 city dwellers have home gardens. In Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, some schools have their own gardening programmes.

Meanwhile, in Mali, farmers with small plots are still reeling from a recently-published agreement between Mali and Libya which gave a 50-year, renewable lease for 100,000 hectares of rich farmland to Libya free of charge, water rights included, in exchange for the building of an irrigation system and other infrastructure needed to grow rice and raise cattle.

The land in question is located in the Office du Niger, the agricultural heart of the West African country and responsible for most of the country’s food.

With the current chaos following Qadaffi’s ouster and death, and a punishing drought, the prospect of a major displacement of the Malian farmers seems dim. Still, tens of thousands of poor families live and grow crops on the land but are uncertain what their future holds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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