Behind rows of succulent tomatoes and towering onions planted in plastics in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, is the story of one woman’s resolve to rid the area of plastic eyesore that has not only solved the environmental menace in the area but saving her from from erratic commodity prices. It is estimated that 25percent of the 1500 tonnes of solid waste collected in Nairobi alone is plastic
The idea was conceptualized by Elizabeth Nyaberi, a self-confessed queen of urban farming in 2007. Due to poor garbage disposal in the informal settlement, locals have now turned her small garden into a dumping site, more so: plastic materials hence hindering crop production. To mitigate this, the self proclaimed queen of urban farming has resorted to 'plastic farming' where she collect and plant onions, coriander and even flowers an aspect that she says offers a double solution to food security and environmental degradation.
''I got tired of complaining about waste disposal in my garden. These people surely lack garbage site so I had to think and do it fast,'' explained the mother of two who has over 100 plastic gardens that she has hanged around her room and those of her neighbours. Elizabeth has made it a habit to pick plastic containers thrown anyhow by residents especially those with wider volumes like old basins and buckets which she fills with soil and plant crops of her choice especially vegetables. But this labour of love has birthed a commercial venture which is now seeing her sell the extra and supplementing her family’s income.
According to her, she reaps more from this venture than normal garden farming as she pocket at least Sh250 daily after selling onions, kale and coriander to local residents. During rainy season, her produce triples hence her market extends to neighbouring estates. She has a ready market in Muthaiga where she sell flower and tree seedlings. ''I take Sh9000 monthly income from my plastic garden which has benefited me a great deal,'' offers the lady who doubles up as second hand cloth seller in Gumba market in Mathare.
Versed with basic agricultural knowledge learnt from numerous trainings and workshops she has attended, Elizabeth explains how plastic materials just like any other waste increase or lower soil acidity hence affecting various crops. ''Plastic materials thrown into my garden prevent the soil from breathing and I think it also court insects that eat up my vegetables,'' she added revealing that she used to burn those plastics before she was told that it is hazardous.
This form of farming has been adopted by many residents within informal settlements in Nairobi and Elizabeth is always available to help new farmers launch their own plastic gardens. Besides Nairobi, Nyaberi occasionally travel to his rural home in Kisii County to educate people on this new found farming. She has already trained 50 people who have set up more than 500 plastic gardens. '' I have given them a supplement to their small farms and can now get extra produce,'' she explained happily.
Naomi Andeyo 50 who was introduced to plastic garden farming by Elizabeth late last year can now obtain fresh vegetables for her family of seven. '' I used to purchase unhealthy vegetables for my family in several markets in Nairobi. Spending Sh40 daily is a big hustle. Plastic garden farming now enables me save this for other needs. My family can now eat fresh kale and onion direct from basins on top of our family roof,'' Andeyo said.
National Environment management Authority estimates that 25 percent of 1500 tonnes of solid waste collected in Nairobi alone is plastic. According to the authority’s director Dr. Muusya Mwinzi, national policies on plastic waste management is not enough to keep the environment clean hence need for individual involvement.
University of Nairobi don Dr. W.H.A Olima is confident that if such initiatives are encouraged and more information given, food scarcity which threaten entire world will be stalled. ''Nothing better than elaborate government policy on urban agriculture will take us off,'' posed Dr. Olima who believes that any agricultural innovation supported by professional and technical counsel will bring adequate food to table.
He continues that farmers should be given vital information about types of soil, seeds, pest control and diseases, fertilizer, when to plant and preservation methods.'' It is lack of this information that hurt farmers most hence poor yields. Urban management organs like Nairobi City Council should also come up with favourable agricultural policies to ensure that national food basket is secure,'' explained the director who heads land development department at the university.
James Ketta, an agricultural expert from Pamoja Trust, an organisation supporting urban farmers in Kenya note that with Kenyan population growing at 2.5 percent rate, timely measures must be put in place both at individual and government level to avert looming food crisis. '' Urban families are forced to depend on less nutritious food from upcountry hence need for urgent and sustainable agricultural policies and innovations,'' advises the expert whose organisation offer agricultural trainings to farmers in informal settlements including Mathare where Elizabeth resides.