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Kenyan towns: putting agriculture into the plan

A building under construction in Nairobi (Samwel Nyakondo)
A building under construction in Nairobi
Samwel Nyakondo

"Since independence, city planning in Kenya has not been carried out effectively," asserts Professor Washington Olima of the University of Nairobi. In the absence of a clear landuse policy, urban agriculture is currently thriving in Kenya. But, according to Olima, the confused policy situation and lack of overall coordination leads to conflicting implementation of different land use activities. Little consideration has been given to the areas allocated to agriculture, and the outcome has been to put people's health at risk.

"If you properly regulate urban agriculture then it can be practised well," says Olima. "But the way it is conducted today leads to environmental and health hazards, like creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes and contaminating waterways with agrochemical inputs." Good town planning, he believes, is a major factor in ensuring the health of residents. But in Kenyan towns, especially in low-income, heavily populated areas, water supplies, sanitation and waste disposal systems are inadequate, impacting heavily on people's health and the urban environment.

Farming - an urban occupation

Professor Nancy Karanja, Director of the Urban Harvest Programme for the International Potato Center (CIP) in Nairobi, agrees that urban agriculture is on the rise despite the lack of policy. According to Karanja, production of vegetable crops (kale, beans, tomatoes), and livestock have become an integral component of urban lifestyle in major towns in the country. "Livestock follow human beings in Africa and people move with indigenous knowledge on their keeping. It is part of their survival kit," she says.

Business is brisk in Nairobi's fruit and vegetable markets (Samwel Nyakondo)
Business is brisk in Nairobi's fruit and vegetable markets
Samwel Nyakondo

Ministry of Agriculture data indicate urban farming is pivotal to improved livelihoods of the urban poor, and makes a significant contribution to the urban economy. It is often practised by vulnerable groups, particularly women; keeping of small livestock, including hens, turkey, geese, rabbits, goats and pigs, is especially popular. The Ministry estimates that 250,000 chicken and more than 45,000 goats and sheep are reared within Nairobi, and that over 50,000 bags of maize and 15,000 bags of beans are produced annually in the city. Cattle are rarely kept in the high density residential areas, but conservative figures suggest that about 42 million litres of milk are produced annually in peri-urban Nairobi, generating around 800 million Kenyan Shillings (US$ 12 million).

Recognition and legalisation

Although agricultural practice is not officially allowed in Kenyan cities, Karanja says urban authorities are beginning to accommodate urban farming and to recognise it as a livelihood strategy for the poor. "Over half a million people are involved in urban agriculture in Nairobi and gradually it is becoming accepted as part of city life. But our by-laws need to be addressed," says Karanja.

Roadside tree nurseries are a common sight in Nairobi (Samwel Nyakondo)
Roadside tree nurseries are a common sight in Nairobi
Samwel Nyakondo

In recognition of the diverse opinions on urban agriculture, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), in collaboration with Urban Harvest, organized a one-day stakeholders' workshop in 2006 to foster consensus on urban policy, and create an enabling environment for the development of urban agriculture. Key policy discussions included the role of urban agriculture in employment creation and poverty alleviation, health and waste management, food security, landuse management, physical planning and legislative frameworks.

At the workshop, the Ministry of Agriculture accepted prime responsibility for developing an urban agriculture policy. This is to be done through a multi-sectoral process, supported by KARI, and by the formation of a National Inter-institutional Steering Committee and an urban farmers' network. These will provide a forum for government, private and community participation, the starting point for a national process to optimise the practice of agriculture in urban Kenya.

Written by: Ochieng Ogodo

Date published: July 2007

 

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