Do we ever think of whether we will have food on the table today? I would say the majority of people in the Western world doesn’t because we can afford a lot of the food we need and want. In Africa, 58% of the population, around 1.26 billion people, is expected to live in cities by 2050 (Cobbinah, Erdiaw-Kwasie & Amoateng, 2015). Providing food for everyone is a continually growing challenge, and the urban poor are the ones most exposed to food injustices. I discuss food injustices today with UPE providing a useful lens: UPE can highlight societal structures and the intertwined characteristic of the urban and the natural. Furthermore, through UPE’s emphasis on the maintenance of material conditions and relationships serving the elite only, UPE provides an essential lens through which to look at food injustices (Whatmore 2002).
Food injustices in Nairobi are distinctive. Although vegetables are sold in Nairobi’s informal settlements, most inhabitants lack the necessary money to afford them. Food prices have risen dramatically in recent years, and in turbulent times they almost explode. A cabbage from the supermarket, for instance, costs the equivalent of two euros.
Inhabitants of Nairobi’s informal settlements tackle the food injustices they face with various forms of urban agriculture, amongst all, with urban farming in a sack, as illustrated by the following picture.
Plants in a sack grow quickly if they are sufficiently cared for and watered. In addition to sacks and soil, the micro gardeners need dung and small stones as sediment to drain the excess water. Once the sacks are prepared, the plant seeds are pressed into the soil at the top and sides. When they germinate, the shoots find their way through the holes drilled in the sides of the sacks on their way to the sun. Residents of Nairobi’s informal settlements grow vegetables and herbs, mainly in sacks, but also in small beds at the railway embankment, on the edge of football fields or in the broken foundations of collapsed houses. This is similar to the “urban gardening” movement in large western cities. With one crucial difference: what fires up the self-catering dreams of hip urbanists in backyard gardens, on traffic islands, wastelands or flat roofs in Berlin, Amsterdam or New York, secures the bare existence in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Have a look at the video below to get some fresh insights into how urban farming looks like in Nairobi’s informal settlements.
A sack, including soil and seeds, costs 15 euros and, depending on the weather, produces a harvest every three to six days. According to the Map Kibera Trust, which promotes the participation of inhabitants in decision-making processes, the planting of sacks generates an additional weekly income of at least five US dollars. This is a lot considering that the average family only has 50 to 100 dollars a month (Gallaher, WinklerPrins, Njenga & Karanja, 2015).
Cobbinah, P. B., Erdiaw-Kwasie, M. O., & Amoateng, P. (2015). Africa’s urbanisation: Implications for sustainable development. Cities, 47, 62-72.
Gallaher, C. M., WinklerPrins, A. M., Njenga, M., & Karanja, N. K. (2015). Creating space: Sack gardening as a livelihood strategy in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Journal of agriculture, food systems, and community development, 5(2), 155-173.
Featured image: Wanzala, J. (2014) Sack farming in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Retrieved from https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2000137378/urban-spinach-farmer-makes-sh100-000-in-profit-per-month
Himberg, S. (2010). Sack farming in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Retrieved from http://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/report/88150/kenya-bag-farm