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Making urban agriculture inclusive

Sack gardening is easily accessible for wheelchair users (© Real Impact)
Sack gardening is easily accessible for wheelchair users
© Real Impact

Despite growing awareness that agriculture in urban areas has significant implications for income generation, food security and nutrition, little is known about the opportunities people with disabilities have to participate in agricultural activities or the extent to which they rely on urban agriculture. To raise awareness about the importance of including people with disabilities and develop strategies to include them in urban agricultural activities, a pilot project* in Thika, Kenya was implemented by the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre - in collaboration with Research into Use (RIU), Real Impact, Well Told Story and the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS).

Hands on approach

With the help of two agronomists from Real Impact - a Kenyan NGO that works to increase food security through community-based nutrition gardens - demonstration gardens were established in two schools that catered for children with disabilities. The aim was to enable students and other people in their communities with disabilities to learn about innovative urban agriculture techniques. Sack gardening and vermiculture were chosen because they require little space, are inexpensive and could provide people with meaningful employment. Both methods are also easily accessible for wheelchair users.

Lessons on the different techniques were introduced into the curriculum, providing children with practical experience of farming, with supervision from their teachers. School catering staff were also trained in different cooking techniques. Produce from the gardens was used to support feeding programmes in the school to improve the nutrition of the pupils and teachers.

Breaking down barriers

Sifa has a talent for urban market gardening (© Shujaaz.FM)
Sifa has a talent for urban market gardening
© Shujaaz.FM

To highlight the exclusion and prejudice people with disabilities face in accessing agriculture as a means of livelihood support in Kenya, Well Told Story developed a storyline in Shujaaz, a popular comic strip magazine and radio broadcast that has millions of readers and an audience of over 3 million listeners. The story about a girl called Sifa, who uses a wheelbarrow to move around as she is unable to afford a wheelchair, detailed her passion and talent for urban market gardening. Despite the prejudice she encounters, Sifa generously shares her knowledge with struggling local market gardeners and helps rescue their businesses. They are surprised and impressed and help Sifa buy a wheelchair, initiating community acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities.

The story proved very popular and resulted in significant supportive feedback via Facebook. "I thank Sifa for what she's doing as a young person, showing us that disability is not inability," says one reader. Another wrote, "I have planted sukuma wiki and tomatoes, just like Sifa showed us, and I'm making money. Sifa has also encouraged me not to give up in life." A third reader added, "I like Sifa because, despite her disability, she empowers other people. Her story has enlightened many people in our society."

Filling the knowledge gap

To complement capacity building through the demonstration gardens, and awareness raising activities, a survey was undertaken to explore issues around livelihoods, food security and nutrition of people with disabilities. Interviews with 140 households in a peri-urban settlement revealed that of the people with disabilities who participated in agricultural activities, most were involved in planting, thinning, weeding, and harvesting, but were less involved in feeding animals, dairy farming or marketing. Households where people with disabilities didn't participate in agriculture highlighted physical inaccessibility, lack of assistive devices and the feeling that disabled people were 'not allowed' to participate as barriers.

Lessons on urban agricultural techniques were introduced into the curriculum (© Real Impact)
Lessons on urban agricultural techniques were introduced into the curriculum
© Real Impact

It was clear from the survey that many respondents felt people with disabilities would benefit financially, socially and in terms of food security from increased involvement in urban agriculture, but that their participation was limited by stigma. "The results of the survey and the work undertaken in the demonstration gardens has highlighted a need for expansion and training on innovative urban and peri-urban agriculture methods, which can be adapted for people with disabilities," says Maria Kett, assistant director of the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre.

Key interviews and focus group discussions with policymakers, agricultural extension workers, and parents, social workers and teachers, revealed some interesting findings. The policymakers recognised the importance of engaging with disabled people's organisations when making policies and the agricultural extension workers requested training to improve their capacity to work with people with disabilities and knowledge about technologies that can be adapted. Parents, social workers and teachers highlighted the importance of raising awareness about the opportunities for people with disabilities in agriculture through the school curriculum.

Scaling out

Veronica Nganga looked into the barriers that prevented people with disabilities engaging in agricultural activities (© Real Impact)
Veronica Nganga looked into the barriers that prevented people with disabilities engaging in agricultural activities
© Real Impact

Research intern Veronica Nganga, disabled herself, carried out additional research into the barriers that prevented people with disabilities engaging in agricultural activities. As a result of her findings, Nganga made a number of recommendations, including the need to encourage the use of light and adapted tools, crop markers written in Braille, crop spacing for wheelchair access, and the use of Braille and pictures to make training materials more accessible. Real Impact is taking this research forward by building a demonstration site at its farm which will include appropriate crops, tools and growing methods for different categories of people with disabilities.

The project team are working closely with relevant government ministries to share their research findings in order that they will be fed into the draft of the forthcoming national urban agriculture policy, which doesn't yet mention people with disabilities. "The lack of disability-inclusive agriculture projects means that this issue is not being brought into mainstream programmes where disability awareness and inclusion remains limited," explains ACTS research fellow, Serah Nderitu.

* This was part of a three year DFID-funded Cross-Cutting Disability Research Programme

Date published: September 2013


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