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The Role of Vertical Farming in enhancing nutritional security.

To drive agricultural sustainability and innovation in order to enhance nutritional security and reduce food waste.

Photo of Sheila Suluve
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Ukulima Tech Ltd

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

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

Ukulima Tech is a limited company with three shareholders who are also the cofounders. These are: Sheila Etam-40% stake Elizabeth Onyango-40% stake Brenda Awuor-20% stake

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 3-10 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?

Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya covers an area of 696km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

My relationship to Nairobi is overall enthrallment. Having been born and brought up in this city, I have the privilege of witnessing its brilliance as well as disappointments. This city therefore holds fond memories of my childhood and a larger part of my adulthood to date. I love Nairobi but I’m all too aware of its flaws that are sometimes a cause for frustration and anger.

I selected Nairobi as the center to develop my vision due to the need of its urban environs. The busy and fast-paced nature of Kenya’s capital leaves little room for conscious feeding and nutrition among its residents. The rising population due to rural-urban migration has placed immense pressure on an already struggling arable land resource.

 Nairobi is my hometown and it is where I set up a business with my cofounders. I am proud to work with people who share my passion for sustainable food production in cities and use data to empower urban dwellers. My goal is to be among the change-makers in Kenya’s social, political, economic and technological rise to realize its growth potential.

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.

Nairobi is the most populous city in Kenya with a population of 4.7 million people. Nairobi is commonly referred to as the Green city in the Sun. The major languages spoken are English and Swahili. Nairobi is a cosmopolitan city. Nairobi presents itself as a mosaic of residential areas which portray the city’s history. Nairobi, therefore has several identities of the different communities comprised in this city and its dynamics can be seen at residential estate level. There are approximately 2.5 million slum dwellers in Nairobi most of them residing in the Africa’s largest slum area, Kibera. There are different corporates in the central business district as well as small-scale business activities popularly referred to as ‘Jua Kali’—Swahili for ‘hot sun’, since hardly any enjoy the benefit of either adequate shade or shelter. The city is the hub of road, rail and air transport networks, connecting eastern, central and southern African countries.The Nairobi Restaurant Week and Nairobi Food Festival are major events that showcase local and international cuisines.

Climate and topography

Nairobi lies on the eastern edge of the rift valley and is situated 1661meters above the sea level. The Ngong hills occupy the western part of the city. Mt Kenya is located to the North of the city and Mount Kilimanjaro lies towards south-east of Nairobi. The city experiences warm/hot days for most of the year with temperatures seldom falling below 18 degrees C and often reaching 30 degrees C. But the evenings can be cool particularly in June/July when temperatures can fall to around 10degrees Celsius.

Food system and the role of agriculture

Vegetable production for the Nairobi market takes place primarily within a radius of 150km of the city. Produce grown outside Nairobi enters the city through co-operatives and truck transportation. Supermarkets and greengrocers tend to be patronized primarily by higher-income groups, but even they obtain most of their fresh produce from non-supermarket sources.

In Nairobi, 20% of all households grow food, mostly small-scale and for subsistence. Urban agriculture plays an important role in both food and nutrition security for these households, but land availability is a constraining factor. Farming plots can be found throughout the city, from backyards to common spaces to small areas in the CBD.

Hope of Nairobi People.

The hope of Nairobi residents is centered around mitigating the challenges they face with living in the city. These include better income opportunities to support their families, better access to affordable healthy food, healthcare and education.

The effects of diets on the population

The rise in food prices disproportionately impact low-income urban residents. Nairobi residents cope with these changes by eating less, eating cheaper, less nutritious and less diverse food; relying more on street foods than cooking at home; and salvaging for discarded and expired foods. Severe droughts reduce food productivity, increase food cost and reduce food availability. Urban populations have been dramatically affected by the spikes in food leading to severe acute malnutrition and severe food insecurity.

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.


Affordable Nutritious diets

In low-income neighborhoods across Kenya, nutritious, affordable and high- quality food is out of reach. With the urban poor dwellers spending approximately 70% of their income on food, this makes them particularly vulnerable to food price crises thus are unable to afford a healthy diet. The urban-poor particularly in informal settlements, eat for bare survival with little concern for quality.  Where food is available in informal markets, the quality is often not good. 

Environmental Impact

Increasing population, urbanization and diminishing water supply have contributed to declining stocks of arable land. Conventional field farming and rain-fed agriculture is vulnerable to climate risks. In other areas, there has been a rise in social tension due to unpredictable food production. Inter-tribal clashes and family breakdowns are common in areas where there is food insecurity. 


Agricultural systems in Kenya have faced persistent and systematic inequalities in resources, power and roles. Women are the workforce for food production but are limited in basic tools and knowledge. 65% of land in Kenya is governed by customary laws that discriminate against women, limiting their land and property rights. Given that they have vast indigenous knowledge of local plant species, this helps them provide a wide variety of nutritious food for their family, therefore curbing malnutrition at a household level. 

Food loss and food waste

Food loss and food waste (FL&W) represents food that is produced for consumption but never arrives or reaches the consumer in a state too poor to consume. This can be during production, post-harvest, processing, distribution and/or consumption. Consequently, food loss and waste exacerbates food insecurity and poverty in poor communities because of the reduction in real income for consumers. This is especially true for the Nairobi urban poor, who devote a high percentage of their disposable income to staple foods. In addition, Food Loss and Waste is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in Nairobi


Unsustainable Agricultural Practices

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, agricultural production is a huge driver of climate change, producing one-fifth of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.Due to these practices, arable farmland becomes unusable every year. To protect our environment, our health, and our food, we must implement climate-sensitive production methods.

Food Loss and Waste

Post-harvest loss and food waste has also been exponentially increasing, following the same trend with the increase in agricultural production of different produces on the vast continent. It has become clear that food loss and waste is extremely high and requires special research and development and that new investment is required in sub-Saharan Africa to reduce it.

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

When we imagine the future Nairobi, we see a green city with the residents having available, accessible and affordable nutritious food.

Our vision will address the aforementioned challenges by:

  • Initiating urban agriculture with dimensional and locational requirements in appropriate commercial and residential areas.
  • Giving residents an opportunity to grow, distribute and sell produce from residential areas with qualifying provisions to mitigate impacts.
  • Providing community gardens in more urban zones and allow the sale of food grown on site.
  • Giving urban residents an opportunity to grow their own food organically and knowing where their food comes from.
  • Collecting tons of food waste from households and informal markets and turning it into nutrient-rich specialized growing medium that can be used to grow food.
  • Ability to farm bigger, better, cost-effectively and more sustainably through vertical farming.

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.

Given the nature of the existing urban food systems in Kenya, consumers of food are potentially exposed to a variety of environmental contaminants because food crops sold in bustling urban markets have been found to have heavy metal contamination above the levels recommended for human consumption. Without fresh food retailers, therefore, these communities miss out on the economic and health benefits they bring to neighborhoods.

We aim to improve people’s quality of life through our initiative. We believe that through bringing our vision to life:

Improved nutrition and food security for Nairobi dwellers. Our vision will provide a means for vulnerable groups to minimize their food insecurity problems by expanding access to nutrient-dense food. We envision sufficient, safe and nutritious food hence reducing cases of hunger.

Improved socio-economic livelihood. We envision that our solution will enable Nairobi residents to save costs expended on food purchases. This will contribute to stabilizing household economies of the poor, translating into better nutrition and health, greater access to education and more opportunities for saving and investment.

Furthermore, we will enhance a larger multi-stakeholder cooperative platform for connecting and enabling the creation, development and long-lasting nutrition initiatives across Nairobi in particular and Kenya in general. This will enable knowledge sharing (e.g. success and failures), expansion (e.g. cross-country-lab projects) and promotion of initiatives and impact for sustainable nutritional security.

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

Our vision will address the challenges of accessibility, affordability and availability of healthy vegetables that provide important micronutrients needed for the health of Nairobi urban dwellers. It will further provide a platform for collaborative research and design where users play an active role.

Building on developing relationships with international organizations and an understanding of the real-life issues faced by urban residents, our vision seeks to give nutrition the priority it deserves as an underlying problem of urban health crises. We hope that the vision will be the creation of a multi-stakeholder platform that will enable connecting, sharing and facilitating the co-development and co-design in-situ of innovative long-lasting solutions to the challenges faced by the local urban communities in promoting nutrition.

Our specific vision is to install vertical gardens with phytochemical-enriched vegetables to promote nutrient diversification. We anticipate that consumption of healthy, indigenous vegetables grown in our vertical gardens will improve health outcomes compared with consumption of vegetables bought from the market. We hope to promote the use and ownership of newly built vertical gardens as a physical space for a living lab to create awareness of nutritional value of indigenous vegetables as well as the affordability of growing them.

Vertical farming technology is a concept of growing crops in multilayer levels to generate more planting area in a small or limited space. Instead of having a single layer of crops over a large land area, a person can have stacks of crops going upwards. The vertical multilevel arrangement will end up utilizing a very limited space required for crop production. Crops that can be grown using this system include leafy vegetables, green herbs/spices and fruits such as strawberry or passion fruits. The project therefore works towards increasing food production as well as creating food security which will in turn promote healthy life for the urban population. Vertical farming provides nearly 5 times more growing area than the single level traditional farming system.

In addition, our drip irrigation system saves up to 60% of water used compared to traditional field farming. People living in arid and semi-arid areas where there are water constraints are also able to farm.

The innovation has further incorporated aspects of information technology by developing mobile application systems that activates irrigation system from anywhere in the world supported by GSM network, Bluetooth link or internet. Garden automation is therefore an automatic system of irrigation that enables individuals to irrigate, manage and control their farm system remotely through the touch of a button.

Vertical gardens produce healthy vegetable yields that increases nutritional value for households and communities. Malnutrition and undernutrition are greatly reduced due to increased nutritional value of yield from vertical gardens.

Vertical farming is a form of conservation agriculture that allows for reduced tillage, residue retention and crop rotation. This improves soil function and maintains long-term productivity in agricultural systems and restore farming lands.

Our technology has been replicated in arid and semi-arid areas characterized by food insecurity and water scarcity. We use drip irrigation system that reduces water wastage as water goes directly to the plant. We further recycle food waste which forms the growing medium that we use in our vertical gardens. At Ukulima Tech, we seek to reduce the generation of greenhouse gases through a biological process that decomposes this waste to a rich growing medium that supports healthy, organic food production. We use food waste to produce more food through vertical farming technology.

Traditionally, most households in urban centers purchase their vegetables from local kiosks and vegetable vendors. Most of these vendors are women who face challenges such as keeping their vegetable stock fresh for buyers. The use of non-chemical components in our vertical gardens ensures fresher, tastier and longer lasting vegetables, thereby reducing waste. Our food security capacity building strengthens the ability of women to make strategic agricultural decisions and act on them. Our capacity building programmes also target men who are the main decision-makers in households. By including the men in food security interventions, we ensure that both men and women are involved in closing the gap in women empowerment and bridge agricultural inequalities. Women can both provide for their families and sell surplus vegetables and/or herbs to increase their income capacity. We further carry out capacity building programmes on food production in various communities, including women associations. This enables women, who are the major food producers in most households, to be agents of sustainable food security and healthy food consumption. To create change, we realize the need for bottom-up solutions that bring both women and men together to come up with solutions. By selling vegetable surplus, women increase their income and enhance their decision-making power in households and communities. They have more control over use of income.  Women can further shape agricultural processes to improve food security and nutrition

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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