Kibera residents turn unused spaces into farmlands

In urban areas, the practice of urban farming and kitchen gardening has become increasingly popular as a way to make productive use of otherwise unused land.

Urban farming is an essential factor in promoting sustainable living and enhancing local food security.

In the informal settlement of Kibera, the community has been engaging in these positive trends for the past couple of years. Individuals have occupied unused land alongside the railway to create sustainable agricultural spaces, contributing to a greener and more food-secure environment.

One of them is 30-year-old, Rose Kemunto, a mother of three and a resident of the area.

I meet her at her farm harvesting beans while her young daughter plays at a distance.

“I had planned to harvest this for some days now but was held up tending to my youngest child as she was sick. We usually don’t let matured crops stay on the farm for long because when we do, someone would enter into your space and harvest it for you. Someone was here already,” says Kemunto as she points out visible footprints around the farm.

Kemunto working at her farm located in Kibera near the showground.

Kemunto’s farm is on an open space at the far side of Kibera next to the show ground. Other farms follow suit next to hers each unfenced and belonging to different individuals. The terrain on her farm still appears rough, with visible rubbles serving as proof of what was once there.

How did she begin?

“I began farming on this piece of land back in 20216 before the 2018 demolitions which found some people had already evacuated. By then I had been working as a tailor but due to some challenges, I had to close my shop. Areas where people had not settled had become bushy and filled with shrubs. That’s when the Kenya Railways Authorities came and requested us to temporarily make use of the land until they have use for it. That’s how most of us who began farming here before 2018 got these spaces,” she explains.

Kenya Railways Corporation had issued a notice to settlers as early as January 2004. The notice stated they planned to demolish all structures within 100 feet of the railway line that cut through Kibera. This was realized in July 2018 as people evacuated , the standing structures were trampled down leaving a mass of rubbles.

“The railway line in Kibera was already known for harboring dumpsites hazardous to people who had settled along there. After the demolitions the state of the place was way worse than before one could hardly see it had any other purpose than just being in ruins,” she says.

The transition…

Kerubo and the others took up the offer to utilize the spaces and for the past 8 years, it has served as a vital source of both sustenance and income for her family though it wasn’t an easy task.

“Initially getting out the accumulated waste was the main priority before using the land for anything else. The work was very tiring as we had to do it manually in our individual spaces. With our bare hands we scrapped out unwanted objects to prepare the land for farming, “she said.

Drawing from her farming background, Kemunto carefully tended to her farm cultivating a variety of crops such as maize, beans, cassava, arrowroots, wheat, potatoes, and an assortment of vegetables. Over the years, she has effectively managed to turn the barren soil into a thriving garden.

 

The terrain on her farm still appears rough, with visible rubbles serving as proof of what was once there. But Kemunto has turned the space into a functional farm growing food for personal consumption and for sale.

“These spaces look small and somehow unproductive on the first site but still have good potential if utilized correctly. In a good farming season, I can harvest 10-20 kg of beans and a whole sack of potatoes,” she explained.

Her thoughts resonate with that of Peter Lumumba an electrician, who has his farm further away from Kemunto though still along the railway line. His farm is situated in the Karanja area but unlike Kemunto who out of necessity began plowing the field, Peters had a different reason.

“I’ve lived in Kibera for long and am familiar with the devastating condition it was in initially. Most spaces especially along the railway line acted as dumpsites and I didn’t see any potential for it. But there was a particular day my perception changed,’’ says Lumumba.

Speaking artwork….

Lumumba’s farming space is next to a wall that separates a school from the railway line. On the wall, a colorful mural is painted depicting an image of Kibera that is prosperous in its resources. The artwork was based on a project dubbed “Imagine Tomorrow” by a group of young artists in Kibera. The artists were tasked to showcase a visual representation of a working ecosystem in Kibera in the future. The outcome of the artwork was a green Kibera with fresh streams of water, tarmacked roads, good infrastructure, and gardens along Kibera.

Imagine Tomorrow mural located at a section of Lumumba’s farm.

“I was here in 2022 when they transformed the plain wall into a reflection of a future that seemed too good to be true. The irony of it was that the area itself was filled with a heap of rubbish they hardly had enough space to reach the wall. But then again it stirred a desire to replicate what I was seeing,” said Lumumba.

“I wanted to make the art piece a reality, “he adds.

Though he couldn’t clear the entire area just a section of it he made sure he preserved the artwork still visible on the farm. He set up a garden comprising a couple of trees and crops such as maize, bananas, cassava, kale, and other vegetables.

A cleared section of the once heap of waste where Lumumba has turned to a garden comprising a couple of trees and crops such as maize, bananas, cassava, kale, and other vegetables.

“I spend most of my time here and I always remember how this place was before the transformation. I am proud of the outcome which am planning to extend,” says Lumumba.

Lumumba and Kerubos crops are both for consumption and selling purposes. Kerubo sells her farm products to vendors and directly to consumers. The income she generates has allowed her to assist her husband in reducing household expenses.

“I don’t buy vegetables at all since I grow them. The money I get from selling the produce is channeled to help my husband pay school fees and other needs,” states Kemunto.

The Challenges…

Her efforts have not been without challenges though. Kerubo’s farm just like the other surrounding farms isn’t fenced and would normally be vandalized by not just people but animals as well.

“The farms on this end are next to the N’gong forest reserve. Monkeys and baboons tend to cross over to feed off from our product mostly targeting the maize. They are dangerous since you can’t chase them away for fear of them getting aggressive. Birds too feed on the wheat and that’s why we usually tie recycled paper bags at the tip of the sprouting wheat to prevent them from pecking,” says Kerubo.

To prevent birds from pecking at sprouting wheat ,farmers tie paper bags on them.

With the effects of climate change getting worse by the day, Kemunto says they have been forced to endure unfruitful seasons.

“Farming here for a long time has made us understand the weather patterns but over the years it’s hard to make predictions.   It’s either raining heavily or the heat is too much and both affect crop yield significantly. When the heat strikes, we usually have to water the farm three times a day and it requires we spend money to purchase water,” she explains.

“Upscaling is another issue as most of us are not familiar with the different farming techniques and skills to help us utilize these spaces more. And again, we are here temporarily,” she adds.

The future…

Kemunto and Lumumba both feel their initiatives have helped in not only conserving the environment but also serving as a reference where young people can take up opportunities to utilize the resources in their immediate environment.

“Young people are very observant of what their environment depicts. I plan to transform this space into a green park where people can pay a visit and hold functions at the heart of Kibera,” says Lumumba.

The view of Kibera stretches out wide when viewing it standing at the railway tracks. For Someone who has lived there for long, the view harbors a more pleasant future judging from the transformation already underway.

A view of Kibera from the railway line

“There still exist dumpsites not just along the tracks but deep in the settlements. But they are decreasing in numbers as these farms stretch as far as Kikuyu and beyond. I’ll have to vacate this place someday but I have no regrets am just thankful for the opportunity I was given. But before then I hope to secure my land even if it’s small as farming is a part of me,” concludes Kemunto.

 

One thought on “Kibera residents turn unused spaces into farmlands

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