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Reimagining Kenya’s Homa Bay: Transforming Challenges into a Vibrant Sustainable Food System

Inspired fishers, farmers & urban residents turn organic waste and other environmental challenges into resources for an abundant food system

Photo of Samuel Mutiga
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Biosciences eastern and central Africa - International Livestock Research Institute Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

1. Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay, a Faith Based organization in Homa Bay Kenya. 2. Manor House Agricultural Center, Kitale, Kenya: a charitable trust which supports small-scale farming in Kenya 3. United Nations - World Food Programme (WFP) – Kenya country office. 4. Sanergy Limited Kenya – a private company involved in sanitation, waste management and manufacture of organic fertilizer and insect-based animal feed. 5. Cornell University, USA – includes faculty from the following schools: Integrated Plant Sciences; International Nutrition; College of Veterinary Medicine; Landscape Architecture and Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability - Food Security Working Group 6. McKnight Collaborative Crop Research Program 7. University at Buffalo, USA - School of Public Health. 8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 9. Maseno University - department of Public Health and Biomedical Sciences 10. Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MAOLF)- Local Government of Homa Bay County

Website of Legally Registered Entity 

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Homa Bay County in Kenya

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our motivation to strengthen the food systems in Homa Bay stems from past experiences conducting research in East Africa. Our research findings and programmatic experience lead us to envision innovative and sustainable approaches to food security in Kenya, with Homa Bay as a model for aquatic and terrestrial systems, and their thoughtful integration. Homa Bay has many resources that could be harnessed for sustainable food production.

For 15 years, the Cornell team has worked on strengthening food and health systems in East Africa. One of our partners leads the Mfangano Research on Environmental and Community Health Study, based in Kenya and focused on better understanding the dynamics of fish availability and its impact on human diets and child nutrition within Lake Victoria.  Further, our project lead, the Manor House leader, and our team member at the University of Buffalo completed post-graduate studies at Cornell University.

A long-term goal has been to reduce mycotoxins in food systems, as Kenya experiences frequent outbreaks of aflatoxicosis. Through partnerships with BecA-ILRI Hub, Cornell, CIMMYT and KALRO, we showed that production of healthy maize (soil health management, water and management of pests) under optimal conditions eliminates mycotoxins. Surveys showed that Homa Bay had the highest aflatoxin contamination in maize in 2009. 

Our team has since made collaborative efforts to solve the problem by reaching more people and institutions. For example, we partnered with The Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay, which has extensive collaborations, Farmer Research Network and is a member of the Agro-ecology Hub based at Manor House Agricultural Center in Kitale. Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay can provide moral leadership to change how wastes are viewed and valued alongside Agricultural Extension Services.  We aim to show how the communities can utilize the available resources, including those that are considered to be problems to attain sustainable development.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Homa Bay County  is located in the southern part of the former  Nyanza Province, Kenya, along the shores of Lake Victoria - Africa’s largest freshwater lake. It was originally known as Chich Onuno (Onuno’s market) but it was renamed to Homa Bay by colonialists in 1925 because it was overlooking the then Huma Hills in Karachuonyo. The headquarters of the county is Homa Bay town, which is located about 105 km to the south of Kisumu and about 420 km south-west of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. Besides road transport, Homa Bay town can be accessed by air through Kabunde Airstrip, which is located about 6 km from the town.The predominant communities in Homabay are Luo (nilotes) and the Abasuba (bantu), but other tribes like Luhya, Kuria, Kisii, and Maasai tribes live in the urban areas of the county.

Geographically, the county is divided into two main relief regions, lake shore lowlands and upland plateau. Within the lake shore, there sixteen islands which are full of unique fauna and flora. Within the upland plateau, there are residual highlands such as Gwassi and Ngorome hills in Suba; Gembe and Ruri hills in Mbita; Wire hills in Kasipul and Homa Hills in Karachuonyo.  Kanyamwa escarpment runs along the borders of Ndhiwa and Mbita. Other features include Kodera forest in Kasipul and a Ruma National Park within Lambwe valley. Several seasonal rivers and streams which originate from the Highlands within the county.

To a visitor, Homa Bay town would smell like raw fish, and is loud with some local music genre called Ohangala, originally used in weddings and funerals, but now adapted for entertainment in the Luo community. Like the rest of Kenyan population, the primary food for Homa Bay residents is the maize-based stiff porridge “ugali”. Residents love to serve ugali with fresh or fried fish. Lake Victoria provides the fish and the livelihoods for many Homa Bay residents. Fish from Lake Victoria is also exported to nearby counties of Kenya, including Nakuru and Nairobi. Because of the popularity of fish from Lake Victoria, which is harvested and marketed by the Luo community, most Kenyan hotels identify fish species by dholuo (Luo dialect) names.

The major economic activities of Homa Bay include fishing, aquaculture, crop and livestock farming. Although the county has excellent tourist attractive features, tourism has not been fully developed. Similarly, agri-business, and mining potentials are not fully exploited. The county experiences long and short rainy seasons from March to June and August to November, respectively. February is usually the hottest month. Away from the shores of Lake Victoria is the terrestrial ecosystem, dominated by semi-subsistence farming. The small-scale farmers attempt to produce crops such as peanuts, maize, sorghum, millet, beans and cassava under rain-fed systems. Most of the workforce (75%) is involved in farming and fishing.  Women are involved in trading and food processing. Youth are either fishing or selling fish, but the majority are searching for white collar jobs.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current challenges

1. Diets and health:  

a. Even though most people fish and farm, the majority lack adequate dietary diversity and food security: 82% of households do not have sufficient food throughout the year. Fish profits are low for fishers. Fish are sold to middlemen who later sell to women traders, sometimes in return for unsafe sex when funds are lacking, contributing to high incidence of HIV (21.7%).

b. Drought causes crop failure and mycotoxin (toxic fungal metabolites) contamination. With over-reliance on maize, people's daily meal has mycotoxins. Mycotoxins cause cancer, impaired growth,  immunosuppression and death. 

c. Toxic food and dirty water mean poor gut health, which means people cannot take up the nutrients in their food. Lack of sanitation means dirty drinking water and toxic algal blooms.

2. Environmental issues: 

a. Soils are sandy, shallow, stony and infertile. Soil erosion and flooding have worsened as trees were cut to make charcoal for cooking.  Erosion and lack of inputs causes depletion of soil organic matter and nutrients leading to low yield. 

b. Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns cause uncertainty in food production.  

c. There is a widespread lack of sanitation. Water is scarce, in spite of the presence of the lake. Women walk several kilometers to fetch water from the wells of seasonal rivers. 

d. Water hyacinth is a pernicious aquatic weed that impedes the work of fishers and anyone else using Lake Victoria.

3. Economics: 

a. The majority of people (74%) are involved in semi-subsistence farming.  They are trapped in poverty, with low inputs and low outputs.  Because of rampant food insecurity, people end up eating own-saved seed and buying market grain for planting. This means poor varieties, poor seed and high costs.

b. Market prices are unfair to farmers. 

c. Women cannot afford to feed their families well, so malnutrition limits human potential. 

4. Culture: 

a. With all of the economic and environmental stress, social relations become frayed.  People steal and cheat. 

5. Technology: 

a. Farmers use little or no fertilizer.  

b. Farmers lack information access.

c. Many new technologies could be harnessed to convert challenges such as organic wastes into useful resources.

6. Policy: County and national governments have come up with projects to improve the economy of Homa Bay, but most of the projects are underway and will need extended partnerships to succeed. 

   Potential future challenges:

1. Rising human populations will further stress the environment and human relations.

2. Decline in fish production due to alarming infestation of the lake by water hyacinth will further reduce access to nutrient-rich food within Homa Bay and other parts of the country that rely on fish from Lake Victoria. 

3. Climate change will cause increasingly erratic weather; unexpected flooding and droughts. Besides crop failure, these cause outbreaks of human and livestock diseases.

4. Exposure to mycotoxins could lead to bad mutations which may lead to cancer and may affect newborns. 

5. Unemployment is likely to increase; youth are likely to join criminal gangs and/or engage in disruptive and risky behaviors.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

With strong partnerships, Homa Bay can be transformed into a food basket for Kenya. Through the lenses of “circular economy” and “One Health”, many of the problems that are currently pervasive in the system can serve as opportunities to a better Homa Bay.

  • We envisage a cohesive and organized socio-economic system.  Inspired by the visioning process, people believe in a better future and strive for it.  With the leadership of BecA-ILRI Hub and Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay, relevant stakeholders could join to facilitate the vision of change in Homa Bay. In focused engagements, including training on gender and agroecological approaches, community members generate and realize a shared trans-formative vision. 

  • Much of the innovation will be done by and with students. We envision youth of Homa Bay working with youth from other parts of the world.  Youth, energized by hope and knowledge, will move the Vision forward.

  • Farmers will address their production questions through a farmer research network that belongs to a global agroe-cological knowledge and conducts participatory research.  Plant clinics will help support pest and disease solutions.

  • We see people harvesting rainwater using roadside  tunnels and inexpensive underground reservoirs to enhance resilience to climate change. This will provide water for inexpensive crop and livestock production. People could be trained to purify the harvested water for domestic use.

  • We see organic wastes as sources of fuel, feed-stock for insects that become fish and livestock feed, and fertilizer.  Wastes to be used as resources include weeds (e.g., water hyacinth); market and kitchen wastes; and human and animal wastes.

    • Water hyacinth can be fed to insect larvae for fish food; increasing breeding space for fish; a better fishing environment; and enhanced production of more fish through aquaculture. 

    • Adaption of Sanergy’s model (community-based aggregation of organic waste through plastic container buckets and toilets for conversion of the waste into products of economic value) will enhance dignity and safety by providing hygienic toilet facilities. Sustainable processing safely turns the nutrients and carbon in the waste to produce fertilizer and other soil amendments such as biochar. 

    • The fertilizer made from wastes will nourish tree seedlings that will be planted to protect and enhance the land, especially the hillsides. This will bring in a range of benefits, including building materials, fruit production, and shade.

    • Organic waste can be used to make biofuel; replacing charcoal and saving trees. More fertilizer can be produced through training people on basic composting methods. To overcome the lack of access to information, village-based seed production and farming advisory system could provide improved seed, ecological pest management, and dietary diversity. 

    • Cage aquaculture will provide new livelihoods as fishers go beyond wild catch to farm fish in pens.  

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We envision Homa Bay as a vibrant economy, a prime tourist destination and a food basket of Kenya. Harvesting of water hyacinth for multiple uses, together with container-based sanitation, will reduce pollution of Lake Victoria and allow production of high-quality feed, enhancing fish and other livestock yields. With a cleaner lake, the productivity will increase. This will in turn lead to more harvests, more fish trade and hence an increase in access to protein by humans within Homa Bay and beyond. A lake without the weed will also enhance recovery of lost nearby ports (e.g., Kisumu port), translating into a more vibrant economy. With a better economy, there will be more jobs for both men and women. 

With organic wastes converted into fertilizers, farmers will see the opportunity to revitalize their farms. Farmer researchers will adapt and improve the technology and hence improve soil health. This, combined with water harvesting for irrigation, will improve yields. With outreach to educate farmers on good agricultural practices, the produce will be more nutritious and safer, with reduced contamination by mycotoxins. The safer produce will fetch a higher market price. Higher crop yields and access to markets will motivate youth to venture into farming, reducing unemployment.

Engaging the community in envisioning and developing the capacity to implement a circular economy that turns waste and problems into assets through feasible, sustainable technologies will build hope, skills, and leadership.  By working together and learning to innovate ways to improve livelihoods, environments and health, residents of Homa Bay will be motivated and enabled to continue to strengthen their food system in the face of future challenges. It is also anticipated that authorities will learn and adapt better policy for water access and food systems. With these transformations, social values will be reclaimed. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The people of Kenya’s Homa Bay County have every potential to overcome their problems by joining hands to build a vibrant community and food system that uses today’s challenges to create tomorrow’s valued resources and employment. People, water, food and landscapes all play key roles in our vision. Inspired and guided by the initial Vision and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the people of Homa Bay County, Kenya will develop concrete plans to enhance the economic, social and environmental vitality of their county. 

This county currently experiences many of the challenges that are encountered by people in the rest of Kenya and in Africa, more broadly. Poverty and hunger are rampant. People have poor sanitation and are mainly dependent on maize-based meals, which are poor in nutrients and high in mycotoxins. Although the government has made efforts to ensure that children complete secondary school, poverty and poor health undermines education, with many dropping out of school for work and early marriage. People are trapped in poverty, struggling to attain basic needs. There is a general lack of access to information that could enable the communities to transform their livelihoods. 

  • Policies that move the vision forward.  Progress will depend on increasing harmony among men and women, tribes and religious groups. To engage people, the local government will support the formation of grass-roots organizations. The transformation will build on the work of the Catholic Diocese and other religious and secular organizations.  The policies of the local government and non-government organizations will provide the enabling environment to move the vision ahead.

  • Collective action.  With the leadership and support of religious and cultural leaders, community organizations will engage in social processes that advance this visioning processes, motivate people to pull together to create their future, and plan and take action. The grass-roots organizations and the social processes they conduct will facilitate visioning, problem-solving and enterprise development that bring people together towards a common vision of a more abundant future.  

  • Rehabilitating Lake Victoria.  The lake is a key asset for Homa Bay County; the city of Homa Bay is located on its shores.  The lake provides economic opportunity to the 17,000 fishermen who benefit from the lake’s diverse fishery.  The lake acts as a mode of transport of goods between Kenya and Uganda.  Unfortunately, pollution from trash and sewage, as well as infestation of water hyacinth and harmful algal blooms have reduced the economic value of the lake to the citizens of the county.  Rehabilitating the health of the lake will refresh the local economy and better provide food and income. The progress on the lake will inspire further environmental interest and action.

  • Water for irrigation and drinking.  Ironically, most people in a county adjacent to a huge freshwater lake lack sources of clean water for drinking and for irrigation. The county gets only 700-800 mm rainfall per year, and only 13% of the land is irrigated.  A few violent rains can wash away soil and crops.  Controlling surface runoff will reduce soil erosion, pollution of the lake, and will make water available for crops and households. Harvesting of surface runoff involves basic drainage infrastructure, including a collecting tunnel, filtration system, an underground collection tank, a solar powered pump, an elevated storage tank and a distribution system. The whole systems utilize locally-available resources and inexpensive solar technology (being in the tropics, sunlight is abundant).

  • Healthy soil, healthy plants...  Soil amendments such as compost and biochar will enrich soils.  Availability of water and locally-produced organic fertilizer will reduce crop stress, which will improve the quantity and quality of food produced.  Healthy plants will not accumulate mycotoxins, sparing humans and livestock exposure to these toxic fungal metabolites. Container-based gardening (sack gardens) will provide opportunities to those without control of land.

  • … and healthy people.  With irrigation and rich soils, farmers will be able to grow diverse crops and keep healthy livestock. Currently, half the county’s population currently suffers from food poverty and periodic hunger, with 26% of children stunted.  With improved incomes and greater crop and livestock diversity, diets will improve and people will feel healthy and happy.  Implementing behaviors related to water, sanitation and hygiene will support the implementation of technologies around these themes (ecosan; water purification).

  • Farmer research networks (FRN).  Building on the Diocese’ membership in an existing FRN (with support from the McKnight Foundation), more farmers will be invited to participate in learning and research activities that will enable them to tap new ideas, technologies and agro-ecological principles and practices. Large-scale farmer experimentation will identify successful options that fit the varying needs of farmers in the diverse landscapes of Homa Bay County. FRNs and other organizations will be empowered with digital technologies.

  • Agricultural diversification efforts will integrate crops, livestock and trees in a strategic manner.  FRNs will continue and expand their initial focus on crop diversification.  Most Homa Bay county farmers grow maize and beans.  By encouraging production of more and higher-value crops, such as coffee and tea at higher elevations and pineapple, sunflower and sesame at lower elevations, farmers can increase yields and incomes.  Cattle and poultry will complement crop production, and tree planting will further enhance the agro-ecosystems.  

  • Fish farming. Aquaculture is feasible, but requires further development to reverse the over-exploitation of natural fish stocks.  Caged fish will be fed on high-quality feed based on waste-to-value chains which will allow fish value chains to thrive without depleting the small fish that many low-income people depend on for protein.

  • Engaged secondary and tertiary education. The reimagined Homa Bay Vision will depend on the actions of inspired youth. By bringing together the youth of Homa Bay (secondary and post-graduate students) and teams of post-graduate students from Kenyan universities, Cornell and other top agricultural universities around the world (members of the A5 alliance), the diverse and integrated activities needed to advance the Vision will get a boost with a future. International students have much to learn from engaged work in Homa Bay, and their energy and enthusiasm can support a culture of innovation and collaboration.

  • School gardens.  Due to widespread poverty (above the national average at 52.9%), child malnutrition is common, with 52.9% of Homa Bay Counties kids showing stunted growth, 15% underweight, and 4.2% wasted. Many aspects of our vision should contribute to improving child nutrition, but one direct approach will be to provide healthy conditions and meals for school children.  School gardens will enable kids to learn about nutrition and agro-ecology, and also to bring home seeds, tree seedlings, and inspiration.  Sack gardens, created by  reusing gunny bags will be implemented to support efficient production in small areas. 

  • Value addition.  Greater value can be obtained from crops, fish, livestock and trees through small- and medium-sized enterprises that add value through food processing (such as making of fish fillets, canned, dried and powdered fruits, fruit juice, etc).  

  • Ecological sanitation. Most citizens of Homa bay County lack sanitation services.  Starting with schools and later with the support of religious organizations, we envisage the establishment of enterprises that provide container-based sanitation services, and that collect, aggregate and process waste into various value chains that include energy, fish/chicken feed, and organic fertilizer.

  • Circular economy. We envision the principles of circular economy revitalizing both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The water hyacinth that is congesting the lake now can be composted, together with other organic wastes (human waste; market and kitchen refuse) to produce fertilizer, animal feed and energy.  This will reduce congestion/pollution and improve hygiene and health for a population that currently lacks sanitation. Based on the success of Sanergy in high-density urban settings, alternative models of ecological sanitation will be adapted to serve the residents of Homa Bay.

  • Ecological pest management and utilization of insects.  Work on insect-based feeds will benefit from the proximity of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), which has developed an array of ecologically friendly technologies that reduce agricultural challenges and provide income opportunities.  Collaboration with ICIPE will support the production of black soldier fly larvae (BSF) from wastes and the ecological management of insect pests of crops, trees, livestock and people. The BSF will provide feed for fish, poultry and pigs.

  • Tourism development. The diverse landscapes of Homa Bay have the potential to provide the county’s inhabitants with diverse and wholesome diets as well as satisfying livelihoods, and also revenue from tourism.  The county is located along Lake Victoria, and its territory includes six islands with notable biodiversity. Poverty and pollution currently obscure some of the natural assets that could attract tourists from the region and beyond.  As the natural beauty of the place shines, it will bring joy to locals and visitors alike. With the support of landscape architects, the leadership and population of Homa Bay will develop a better environment along the lake shore and islands. Investors will be provided with opportunities, but obliged to consider community benefits. Training in hospitality business and the culinary arts will enable locals to earn from tourism.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

We took the initiative of strengthening the vision through bringing in more stakeholders. For this initiative, we approached representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Homa Bay County, Maseno University and the World Food Program. These have now been added to our team and have contributed to the refinement.

We thought of what the first node of the challenges to tackle first. It struck us that the nutrients that are needed in soils are flowing into the lake, and fertilizing water hyacinth. So we got interested in recovering nutrients from post-consumption waste.  We came up with the idea of ecological sanitation (EcoSan) as the first step through use human Urine as Fertilizer; How to Collect and Use Human Urine to Fertilize Your Crops), and a community in the USA that is also doing it ( These initiatives are described in the full refinement pdf.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

Biosciences eastern and central Africa - International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay

Cornell University

University at Buffalo

Maseno University and its African Maths Initiative

Manor House Agricultural Centre

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

We used the best communication methods possible, given the covid-19 health safety precautions. We engaged the initial team and new members through emails and weekly virtual meetings by Zoom connection. In the process, we managed to bring in new stakeholders, as described below.

County Government of Homa Bay - we managed to reach them through their officer who represents the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MAOLF). The officer managed to talk to one of our partners and requested for a written summary of our initiative. We provided a verbal (over the phone) and a written summary which was shared with the representatives of the government. Thereafter, they agreed to partner with us in our endeavors to make a better Homa Bay. 

Maseno University, Kisumu - We have managed to reach three professors, including two nutritional scientists and one public health researcher. These were very appreciative of the idea of adopting circular economy, particularly on using water hyacinth and urine in making of biofertilizers. They have agreed to partner with us on resource mobilization and on training of graduate students and other willing younger people in conducting the necessary research and in optimization of protocols to ensure that the goal can be achieved. 

United Nations - World Food Programme -We held several telephone conversations and had email exchanges, and even managed to meet with their staff while being hosted by Sanergy Limited. The organization has many activities taking place at different parts of Kenya, and what was found to be most important for this effort was their interest in tackling the food safety problem in Homa Bay. During the refinement phase, we had discussions and there was a general agreement that the organization is willing to team up with us in enabling better food systems for Homa Bay. We see this connection as a very valuable tool to resource mobilization, and also to tap on their existing farmers research networks in Homa Bay. 

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

To develop this vision, we came across major signals that are indicative of major challenges within Homa Bay County. These have been captured within the full refinement document and are also summarized below.

1. The area is urbanizing rapidly, at a rate of 3-7% per year in the municipalities around Lake Victoria and a rate of 7% urbanization for Kenya overall.  Unplanned growth has meant that the population is poorly served by a variety of services, including garbage, sanitation, etc.(source: UN- Habitat 2008).

2. “The inadequate off-site and on-site waste-water disposal contributes significantly in the deteriorating environmental quality. Direct discharge of raw sewage into the lake causes high scale water pollution, hence the growth of water hyacinth.” (source: UN Habitat 2008).

3. "Our problem is contaminated water, Water is scarce despite being very close to the lake Victoria. It's even dirty, we can't drink it, no latrines all these wastes land in the our rivers and lake. Re-utilization of this is powerful and challenging but can be tested."-- Farmers voice (source: Beatrice Otieno, Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay).

4. Soil depletion and degradation -- as testified by farmers in our focus group discussions (Manor House Agricultural Centre

5. Mycotoxin contamination of the food supply (as found in our research DOI: 10.1094/PHYTO-10-14-0269-R and

6. Poverty and inequality are on the rise.  For the resource-limited population, this means lack of food security; general insecurity; poor housing, particularly for the increasing population in slum areas; decline in health status (

7. Diseases (HIV-AIDS and Liver cancer, COVID-19) and low life expectancy (

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

A short story of "Achieng Ooko", a businesswoman in Homa Bay County, year 2050

I am a 47-year old mother of two. I got married at 24 to my husband Ooko Oloo. When I was in primary school, I was invited to participate in an EcoSan program in which I learned how container-based sanitation could be used to produced biochar, a soil amendment that brings stable carbon into soils. I became the treasurer in our school club, and learned quite a lot about business and marketing. When I finished secondary school, I took an internship position with the Homa Bay EcoSan Company, and within a year, I had been promoted to a junior sales officer. I promoted the methodology and products to neighboring farmers and restaurants in Homa Bay.

I met my husband when I was 19 years. My then boy-friend and husband to-be was happy with me because I had a job and had bought my own house. I had time to get to know Ooko and when we got married, we were both working on establishing our careers. Ooko had started off working in printing in Kisumu, but wanted to return to Homa Bay where we are both from. He saved up all of the money that he had earned to buy a plot of land in Homa Bay town.  His family had some farm land outside of the town, and together we started a small vegetable enterprise using the biochar to improve our soil. We benefited from many of the new irrigation schemes in the area. Within 4 years, we built a small hotel, and we have now expanded it to have 12 chalets with view of the lake. We now have guests from Kisumu and Nairobi as well as international guests come to visit with us and have been able to hire a staff of 20 people. I am now the regional manager for EcoSan. I hold a degree in Business Management from Maseno University. My son Owino is 13  and my daughter Akinyi is 15 years. My children go to models schools here in Homa Bay County. I am happy for the future that I am building.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

Our basic framework of “water health, soil health, crop health, community health” is founded on a vision in which taking care of ourselves means taking care of the environment.  Specifically:

1. Improved soil health: Improved retentions and infiltration of rainfall; enhance nutrient providing and nutrient holding capacities, enhances resistance to pest and diseases while improving crop performance in general;

2. Diversification of farming systems – agrobiodiversity reduces risk of catastrophic crop failure compared to less diverse system, improves household nutrition, smooths out troughs in food availability throughout the year

3. The above would result in improvements in people's livelihoods so that they don’t need to engage in poverty-related natural resource exploitation that’s currently destroying the trees, hydrologic cycles and soils in Homa Bay County.

4. The simple idea of planting more trees is another key component.  Trees provide diverse ecosystem services at landscape and farm scales. Trees would have positive influences on hydrologic cycle (increased water vapor =increased rainfall; shading of trees along rivers helps rivers to flow year round (currently many rivers have dried up due to cutting down trees on the river banks). Planting of trees would lead to reduced direct water evaporation and increased retention of moisture in the soil. This would in turn enhance soil structure and better farm productivity, and hence better income and livelihoods of the residents.  

5. Tourism: Planting of trees can create good environments for wildlife. These can be good attraction sites for tourists. Boosting tourism sector can lead to job creation in the hotel industry.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

Sustainable food production of high quality foods to address all forms of malnutrition is a key goal of our vision. By addressing both agriculture and aquaculture production, we aim to increase availability of staple grains and animal-source foods. Improving grain production and yields will address fundamental concerns about under-nutrition, improving both incomes and food access. Improved access to grains will provide for sufficient caloric intake in the regional population and address chronic and seasonal under-nutrition. Sustainable aquaculture practice will provide for the long term availability of fish, a high quality animal source food that addresses concerns around micronutrient deficiency and metabolic disease. Responsible aquaculture also has the potential to reduce pressure on wild fisheries, allowing for improved food access for people who are not part of the aquaculture sector as well. Fish provide both high quantities of micronutrients, especially for small fish that are consumed whole like the region’s dagaa (R. argentea), and are a primary source of essential fatty acids, which are both critical for development and play a role in reducing metabolic disease. 

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

Our vision will support jobs in multiple sectors: aquaculture, wild fisheries, agriculture, and fertilizer production. By integrating these sectors and jointly addressing sustainability concerns within them, these jobs are designed for the future and to increase incomes to support living wages. The diversity of sectors involved means that opportunities will be available in sectors across traditional gender norms. Currently, men are engaged in fishing and women are engaged in marketing of fish. However, the fish trade from water to the market has been faced with cheating. In this vision, we envision that there shall be opportunities for both gender. Men will make good profits from their catch, and women will buy the fish at prices which can give them some profits too. 

Besides fishing industry, there shall be diversity of opportunities - to increase choice and hence reduce chances of unemployment. Some people would venture into farming while others are  working in the tourism industry. Others would take part in entertaining visitors within the new and more vibrant economy.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

Improving the different nodes of our vision would automatically lead to a better Homa Bay County. The concerns of cultural erosion can be undone through better establishment of innovations to enhance incomes for all people in the county. Our vision demonstrates robustness of tackling different aspects that affect people of different gender. For example, low agricultural productivity has been linked to increased school drop-outs and early marriages of girls - this can be reverted through better farming practices in our vision. Youth have been observed to prefer relocating to urban areas for white collar jobs - a trend that can be reverted if aquaculture was improved to boost incomes. 

Luo men and women had their good traditions that have been continuously eroded by the increasingly hard economic times. With this vision, we aim to revert the challenges to give the community an opportunity to engage in better societal activities, as they adopt good modern cultural practices. Achieving positive change has motivated community to engage in collective action for the public good.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

A key component of the Vision will be innovation at the nexus of agriculture and sanitation - linking container-based sanitation technology to resource recovery into agricultural production.  This will be linked to processing of organic wastes (including kitchen wastes, water hyacinth, waste from fish processing and other animal wastes) into useful products including fertilizers, soil amendments (such as biochar), fuel and feed for insects that eventually become fish feed. We will adopt Sanergy’s model (community-based aggregation of organic waste through plastic container buckets and toilets for conversion of the waste into products of economic value). Part of this will involve training and facilitating women and young people to rear black soldier fly (BSF) for use as fish and chicken feed.  

Rehabilitating Lake Victoria will also need consolidation of available data and information on the physical and biological state of the lake, and the socio-economic factors to guide vision implementation. Key areas of focus will include (i) integration of the already available physical and biological control approaches for water hyacinth- converting the water hyacinth into feed for beneficial insects and local artistry industries. Water hyacinth makes very good seats and wall decorations thereby providing economic sources to women and youth. (ii) capacity building of local institutions, including Catholic Diocese, in water quality monitoring and sustainable land use practices to further contribute to conserving the Lake.

We envisage working with partners to improve access to safe and sustainable drinking water by ensuring its availability, and facilitating water treatment and safety in handling, storage and consumption. Part of this includes adapting place-based water safety planning framework to (i) guide service providers and communities in Homabay to adequately understand the risks, sources and management of water contamination, and (ii) to put in place requisite measures to prevent contamination of their water sources.

To further protect the lake from inflow of silt while at the same time improving soil health, we will harness available technological options to implement integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) that will include use of organic manure generated through composting of organic wastes, thus contributing to improved sanitation, crop health, productivity and food safety as healthy maize crop is not known to accumulate mycotoxins. Linked to these will be implementation of available integrated pest management (IPM) approaches to reduce the ravages caused by insect pests thereby further contributing to improved crop productivity, food security and food safety since some insect pests are known to predispose maize crop to ear rots that are associated with mycotoxins. Additionally, we will implement plant clinics to support farmers in identifying pests, diseases and other production challenges. 

We envisage promotion of agroecological based (climate-smart) farming in Homa Bay, with farmers linked through the farmer Research Networks (FRNs) as a way of improving productivity and eliminating crop failure, while ensuring farming system resilience; with farmers well equipped and facilitated in setting relevant research and development agenda. This will include agricultural diversification bringing together crop and livestock farming, and trees that serve multiple benefits including fodder, soil health improvement, and environmental protection. There are already established crop-livestock integration models that the Vision will adopt. Crop diversification including inclusion of the high premium African Leafy Vegetables-ALVs (to expand diet options and increase market opportunities- diversify income sources), intercropping, efficient smallholder irrigation (including drip irrigation) supplemented through rain water harvesting, and market integration through the high value marketing chains (HVMC) particularly for the ALVs, will farm part of this package. 

The main cause of the excessive pressure on the fish resource is poverty and the growing population in the lake basin. Here we will promote the following (i) expand livelihood options of the communities to address poverty, food insecurity and associated overexploitation of the fish resource (ii)  develop cage farming and provide insect-based fish feeds generated from processed organic matter- further improving sanitation (iii) work through the County Government of Hama Bay and Fisheries to implement the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF) and other policies to address misuse of the resource.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

1. Policies to support water clean-up: 

a. Unrestricted access and use of water hyacinth by those interested in using it to enhance better environments; allocation of resources by local and national government to establish a kitty for innovations to eradicate water hyacinth.

b. Resource mobilization for establishment of a better sanitation for Homa Bay; messaging and subsidies for container-based sanitation; 

2. Policies to support more sustainable agriculture

a. Making sack-based farming a practice for those with space to grow crops

b. Support for handling and safe use of waste (e.g., fish processing waste; human excreta) in production of useful products for a better future

c. Government incentives to enhance access to biofertilizers by local crop growers

3. Transparent handling of public resources and eradication of corruption

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

Before the emergence of the noxious weed, fishers used to make profits from fishing and these fish would be consumed within Homa Bay and in other countries; this meant better diets for the population. The lack of sanitation leads to water pollution, which leads to the hyacinth problem as well as the harmful (even toxic) algal bloom.  The polluted lake cannot be used in provision of clean water for domestic use and for irrigation. With the current pollution, there is overfishing and little catch, which leads to unavailability of this essential dietary source. Now, the poor economic situation affects the culture of the residents - it has been observed that poverty has caused the morals of the people to be degraded, leading to cheating and thefts. 

A lack of clean water for domestic use means that people can get waterborne diseases and hence being rendered unable to work, leading to low productivity and hence a bad economy in the region.  With massive pollution, the lake water cannot be used for irrigation and farmers cannot grow sufficient crops for human food and livestock feed, hence low incomes and poor diets. 

Attending algal blooms will address water quality issues. Adoption of technologies such Container-based sanitation (CBS) will clean up the lake.  This will clear the hyacinth indirectly, but also physical removal will improve access to wild fisheries and provide space for fish farming, improving livelihoods. Improved feeds developed based on organic waste streams will relieve pressure from capture fisheries. This will allow more fish for human consumption, contributing to protein and also micronutrient nutrition (the small fish in particular are a rich source of micronutrients). 

Improving the production of fish, crops and livestock will contribute to livelihoods and nutrition. CBS will also provide livelihoods. The social organization needed to yield the benefits will prove to be a “durable social good” that will provide resiliency and innovative capacity beyond the specific challenges that are originally identified. The local and national governments should provide the relevant policy and partner with other stakeholders to ensure that these challenges are addressed. 

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

Identification of key nodes in the problem chain: Because there are multiple problems which need to be addressed, there is a need to identify key nodes to enhance efficient utilization of limited resources. For example, it would be more feasible to begin by tackling soil nutritional content by making biofertilizers from human waste. Later, we can advance to weed processing through vermicompositing. On provision of water for domestic and agricultural use, we would focus on training the residents on inexpensive water harvesting techniques, as we establish the long-term systems for cleaning of Lake Victoria.

Choice of stakeholders for participation in implementation: our ultimate interest is to impact the livelihoods of the majority of residents of Homa Bay through innovations and technologies. However, implementation of the proposed transformations may be met with difficulties due to cultural influence and ignorance. We will have to run models and to demonstrate that waste can be of value. We can start these pilot programs by partnering with existing organizations e.g., Tree Plant Organizations and local schools. This means that our efforts will reach the target groups after some period of exhibitions in Homa Bay County.

Scale of implementation: due to limitations in resources, we will have to decide on what comes first and the cost implications. Thus, it would be more feasible to utilize available resources to support a few schools with container based sanitation (small-scale), with a plan of rolling out once enough resources are available.

Unforeseen factors: Although our model appears focused on involving multiple stakeholders to implement, some factors may slow it down. For example, diseases such as covid-19 have affected movement and direct physical interaction of people all over the world. Covid-19 has not even allowed us to have face-to-face discussions of this model. Other similar factors include changes in local and national politics, which may affect the policy and environmental aspects such as climate change, which may alter the factors that drive the economy of Homa Bay.

Engagements with the local authorities may make us change the proposed approaches. It is the county and the national governments that lay down the developmental policy. Depending on the outcome of engagements, we will have to plan and adjust accordingly to ensure that we deliver what is acceptable to the  authorities. 

Operations of similar organizations  in the region. We have engaged several stakeholders and are in the process of learning their activities. To be more specific, we have learned a lot from Sanergy Kenya Ltd and we expect to learn more. We would be willing to adopt technologies and ideas that are less costly and efficient in generating products to deliver to our objectives.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

1. Establishment of a consortium with multiple  stakeholders; including training of youth on waste to value (W2V) approaches. The training shall be initiated within schools to facilitate the container based sanitation. Duo-cartridge plastic toilets would be made useful in schools.

2. Establishment of W2V lab within a shipping container in Homa Bay: This would enable collection, transportation and sanitization of the products. Urine and faecal will be transformed into biofertilizer and made available for use in a pilot fruit tree growing. 

3. Train farmers on harvesting of water from the surface run off as well as on effective agro-ecological farmers. This would involve establishment of basic infrastructure for harvesting of surface water runoff through farmers groups.

4. Strengthening of farmer research networks. These would be very useful in subsequent demonstration of methods and exhibition of products derived from the vision efforts. 

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

1. Production of biofertilizer (utilizing both urine and faecal matter as well as other forms of organic waste, including the water hyacinth) for distribution to many small-scale growers of crops

2. Harvesting of water hyacinth for vermicomposting using BSF; conversion of weed into fertilizer and BSF for fish and livestock feed

3. Active aquaculture using biologically derived feed, from conversion of waste to value above 

4. Improved water harvesting and active  production of diverse crops, livestock and fish in Homa Bay by at least by 20% of the current output

5. Complete cellular economy through conversion of waste to value that feeds and conserves the resource base, tied to an active and engaged community whose members enjoy improved livelihood

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

We would like to kick-start our effort with this prize by conducting a broader stakeholder meeting to consult further to identify the most appropriate starting node in the Homa Bay Vision.  The Covid-19 situation provided a variety of challenges for us, and we would like to get more action on the ground as soon as the lock-down is over.  

Currently, container-based sanitation seem like the most impactful node to begin with. We will use these funds to lay the ground for activities on container based sanitation and on activities that can culminate in utilizing black soldier fly (BSF) in conversion of water hyacinth weed into biofertilizer by feeding it to BSF.  We will spend most of the funds in supporting the local schools with better sanitation systems by piloting separating toilets that permit resource recovery. These dual-cartridge toilets will be provided to a few pilot secondary schools, together with a simple local facility that sanitizes the products for use in school gardens. 

We have an initial partnership with Sanergy Ltd and we are learning a lot from their past experiences, particularly with engaging the local authorities to ensure that the right permits are in place. With consultations and approvals from the local and national governments, we would begin the transformation of the waste as described above. We will establish partnerships with a local organization working tree planting (such as to provide them with the biofertilizers and to validate the utility of these biofertilizers on their existing efforts. 

Our team members have already initiated efforts to mobilize more resources to support these initiatives. Furthermore, we will engage the local authorities by conducting demonstrations of our efforts, with a focus of showing them the need to invest in these sustainable approaches to waste management through technological innovations for revitalizing the environment and job creation.

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

  1. Sustainable technologies that pair environmental protection with food production are feasible and rewarding: it is possible to  create economic activities while also improving nutrition, health and well-being

  2. Community engagement works — people are motivated to learn new skills, leverage new technologies and opportunities, and work together to improve not only their own lives but the well-being of their communities and local environments

  3. Wastes are resources – in the wrong place, organic wastes can cause environmental and health hazards but with appropriate, feasible technologies these wastes can not only be removed from the environment where they cause problems, but be transformed into products that contribute to improved soil and water health, both of which lead to greater food security and human health.

  4. Everything is connected — It is difficult to even map or describe all the ways that the activities in our vision contribute to and depend on the other activities and sub-systems involved.  People, animals, plants, and environments are completely intertwined.  That makes problems seem more complex and far-reaching, but it also means that when we solve problems in one part of the system, it offers opportunities to feed into solutions in another part of the system.

  5. There are so many ways we can leverage what is already available (resources, wastes, technologies, human ingenuity and motivation) to improve the food system and local food security.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

Our visionary framework illustrates the interconnections in a sustainable system supporting soil health, water health and human health through community engagement in leveraging organic wastes and managing available water resources.  This diagram summarizes a multitude of ways that this system can support and benefit from enhanced food security. The map overlay gives a better caption of how different components of the ecosystem are interrelated.

Attachments (1)

Homa Bay County Vision 2050.pdf

A Refined Food System Vision 2050 for Homa Bay County


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Photo of Elizabeth Kimani-Murage

Hi Samuel, Nice Vision for Homa Bay! Keep it up! I see great potential for collaboration with our Vision for Nairobi - Part of our vision is creating strong and efficient linkages with rural food sources to feed the residents of Nairobi. So I see a great potential in linking with your system to supply safe and nutritious food for the urban residents. Lets discuss this. My email is

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