Over 7,000 tyres are discarded a day in Kenya after being worn out beyond repair, yet the same tyres are proving important to hundreds of urban dwellers who are now recycling them into gardens that are providing the much needed food at a time when reports indicate that poor urban households spend up to two-thirds of their income on food, which is as much as twice that spent by rural dwellers.
The gardens that have now become commonplace in Nairobi are also hailed for the output they produce within limited space while allowing the farmers plant a variety of produces at once.
Vegetables, kales, and tomatoes which are a sure diet for the city residents are among the most preferred by the tyre garden farmers. Interestingly these fresh produces are the most vulnerable to price shocks due to changing weather patterns and farmers late delayed planting. Only recently the price of tomatoes and kales shot up by more than double across major cities in the country, leaving millions of families with an even more strained budget.
But as the families struggled to access the produces, Bereta Wahinya was breathing easy. Her 15 months tyre gardens never dissapointed as tomatoes, spinach and onions beat the erratic weather to keep her family fed.
Bereta, a retired teacher residing in Kawangware, approached mechanics at a garage who agreed to be selling her the old un used tyres for Sh20. With the first two tyres she set out to experiment on a model she had seen tried and tested in Rwanda. “I have a small compound outside my house, the only thing I associated the compound with was misery from my boys who would play football and smash my windows. I had to look for a way to keep them doing homework after school while saving my windows. In one year I had almost replaced the windows about six times. I couldnt take it more,” she said. But what started as a simple idea to keep her from breaking the windows has now transformed into a thriving business having started with two tyres and now owning over 100 tyres which occupy a space of two convetional tables. “I struggled at first with how I could arrange the tyres together, but with time I learnt how to position them to form a ring and therefore create more space. Of course there are some tyres I have placed in the roof of my house,”she added.
In creating the tyre garden she first lays the tire at the spot where she wants it to be and then proceed to cut the sidewall of the upperside completely. This she says help in doubling the planting area available.
She then prepares the compost from well decomposed materials, and spread a plastic bag at the base of the tyre ensuring the bag is strong enough because it forms the foundation of the tyre-vegetable-garden.
“Ensure that you mix thecompost manure thoroughly with soil. This is a crucial part as the soil feeds the plant so it must be well prepared. Then put the mixture in the well-established foundation and add water ensuring it is evenly distributed. As the water settles, get your ready seedlings and plant them. Avoid using regular garden soil, which will become hard and compacted once it’s placed in the tire, and can also contain weed seeds and insects. Its how I achieve instant results,”said Beretta.
It is a discovery she has shared with fellow women in their self help group, chamaa, which has transformed into feeding homes and even selling the extra. Wandigo Mura another farmer who has learnt the ropes of urban farming and has already planted tomatoes and onions not only has year round supply of these important fresh produces in her kitchen, but is selling the surplus to local traders and hotels in Kawangware. In a month she makes about Sh5,000 from the sales. “And this is despite saving over Sh10,000 that I used to spend on buying these produces.
Concern however has been raised on the safety of the tyres used to grow these produces based on the fact that the rubber in the tyre is considered by many as toxic. Angelo Wahinya a scientist in Nairobi however dispels the health concerns arguing that numerous researches hav shown that there is no appreciable risk in using recycled tires in the vegetable garden. While it is a fact that rubber tires do contain minute amounts of certain heavy metals, the compounds are tightly bonded within the actual rubber compound and do not leach into the soil. One of the ingredients in the rubber recipe is zinc. Zinc, in fact, is an essential plant element.
“Again the black rubber of the tyres will absorb warmth from the sun during the day, and will hold the heat, keeping plants warm into the evening hours,” he added
And as the cost of living continues on an upward trend especially in the urban areas, living with most especially in the informal sectors to survive on poor diet, tyre farming is proving a cheaper alternative. Nairobi’s slum dwellers for example suffer some of the poorest nutrition of all Kenyans according to surveys by the World Food Programme, eking out an existence on typically less than a dollar a day, and with scant means of earning any better livelihood.
Finding a solution to food costs, and bolstering incomes as well would therefore come in handy in assisting slum dwellers have more funds for education and healthcare. “Tyre farming is the way to go for urban farmers. We cant remain at the mercy of rural farmers because even they are struggling to feed a rising population especially as rural urban migration soars,”said Angelo.