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Sack Gardening – Micro-farms Provide Nutrition in Kenyan Slums

Food security is a challenge in many low-income communities. Check how residents of Nairobi slums are harvesting their own food within small spaces.

Photo of Meena Kadri
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A few years back I had the honour of meeting some of Nairobi's sack gardeners. Sack gardening became increasingly popular during the post-election violence in 2007/08 when food prices rose by up to 50% and access from volatile sites like Mathare to regular food sources became a challenge. A number of non-profit groups, school and self-help organisations began to promote the efficient, low-maintenance and low-cost sack gardens as a way of enhancing food security. Spinach, kale, chard, peppers, spring onions and tomatoes could be grown with relative ease for household use. Some families began selling their surplus harvest to neighbours while others grouped together to create micro-enterprises around their collective crops, including nurseries to supply the growing flock of Nairobi’s sack gardeners with seedlings.

What started as a way of improving food security has blossomed into a number of entrepreneurial ventures, driving an increased demand for fresh, local produce. Folks I met seemed proud of the independence that their doorstep gardens could provide. Many residents are rural migrants with roots in farming and are rekindling agricultural knowledge they had left behind, via their sack based micro-farms.

From my original article: Mathare’s Micro-farms and Market Gardens 

How might we inspire those in low-income communities to grow their own food? How might we popularise sack gardening in new locations? How might we share nutritional information alongside sack gardening initiatives?

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Photo of David Bacquet

I also see positive side effects of growing own vegetables when children are involved in the process by making them feel their impact on their environment: they can create food from seeds by watering it, caring about the plants as they grow. For self-esteem it is crucial to put the children in a situation where they successfully contributed: to be able to grow plants and to "provide" food for their family. It instills also the sense of responsibility and the impact of their actions on the results. My 2 year old daughter is always volunteering to water and harvest the strawberries (we have only one pot on our balcony) and herbs, she so happy to eat the only tiny red strawberry of the day. It is also a time shared between adults and children.

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Photo of Loris Bottello

I agree with you David. I think it might be useful to have this kind of micro-farms in schools and teach children how to take care of plants, to make them feels responsible about something that can help their family.
Some friends of mine organised a daycare for kids through the summer and they created a small garden for vegetables: kids planted the seeds and had to water it and take care of it. They were very satisfied when they eventually were able to harvest something, and in the process they also learned the importance of daily commitment for a long term goal.

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Photo of Maurizio Bricola

School and households garden are great initiatives indeed. In Malawi there is some excellent work done by the Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology see:
http://www.kusamala.org/education/school-visits/
http://www.kusamala.org/demonstrations/home-garden/
http://www.kusamala.org/projects-partners/red-soil-project/
Cheers

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Thanks for further inspiration on this, Maurizio!

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Photo of Meena Kadri

And we're loving the youth-centered conversation from David + Loris, too. Looking forward to what this might inspire for our upcoming Ideas phase...