Strawberry emerges as fruit of choice as city gardens tame lifestyle diseases

An innovative programme aimed at beautifying households in the city has enabled city dwellers cut on the costs spent on buying fruits by being able to have fruit gardens in their living rooms thanks to Plant A Fruit.

The move which aims at endearing the young generation into healthy eating habits spells a bright future for the masses with reports from World Health Organization indicating that insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated to cause around 14 percent of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, about 11 percent of heart related disease and about 9 percent of stroke related deaths globally.

The move has not only enabled the more impoverished population living in the slums afford fruits in their meals but also help preserve the environment by using the plastic wastes as the gardens which in most cases make the bulk of litter in low end areas of the city.

Motivated by need to make a positive mark among the disadvantaged in the society, the group set out on a journey to improve the livelihoods of the majority of slum dwellers in Nairobi. Achiki Mayieka the head of the group posed, “Imagine being able to eat a freshly plucked strawberry from your own plant growing in your living room and serving both as a flower and a fruit? This is the aim of the project with our main focus in low end areas of the city that are mostly botched by poverty, poor hygiene and insecurity.”

According to him, these are the areas that their population is never fed well and can hardly afford a balanced diet hence the introduction of plastic flower fruits in their living rooms to help improve sanitation and provide an opportunity to include a fruit in their meals.

The initiative which kicked off three years ago has already taken shape in over 300 households in Eastland and Karen areas of Nairobi. Achiki explained, “We encourage willing households to at least plant straw berries in recycled plastic containers or buckets which not only gives their living rooms nice scenery but also gives them an opportunity to enjoy straw berry fruits that are mostly a preserve of the rich due to its high price with half a kilo going for an average of Sh300 in most supermarkets.”

He explained that the move is also endearing the young generation into agribusiness as they are the ones mostly involved in maintaining the plants. The children in these households at least know what a straw berry looks like and how to maintain it to ensure high returns.

The group sources for families with the recycled plastic bags and as an initial start up provide them with quality sample with straw berry seedlings. With families in need of more seedlings the group has taught them how to conduct seedling multiplication from the initial plants.

The group also conducts frequent follow ups to provide expertise knowledge to the families on how to cater for the flower fruits. We settled on straw berries because of their high value mineral content and the fact that they take a very short time of about three months to start flowering and fruiting as opposed to other fruits like passion fruit and apples which take over a year to mature.

Initially, the beneficiaries were not able to rip maximum yields because of poor handling techniquesbut the group later on made it part of their strategy to ensure training to curb the misfortunes. “We encourage the households who have planted the straw berries to prune the first batch of flowers to ensure maximum yields from the subsequent flowerings which is the ideal practice when dealing with the plant.”

The group aims to spread the practice throughout the country’s urban areas. Achiki noted that with plastic bags and container wastes making the bulk of the litter in most of the urban areas, they intend to avert the trend by encouraging the adoption of the bags as a source of beauty for the households.

The initiative is not only a preserve for the dwellers in low end areas of the city although that is the main area of focus for Plant A Fruit. For most households with enough space, the organization encourages them to set up an orchard in their backyard. “We already have over 50 households from the city that have embraced the initiative.”

A recently published WHO/FAO report recommends a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers for the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, as well as for the prevention and alleviation of several micronutrient deficiencies, especially in less developed countries.

According to Achiki, the population can only be helped by such initiatives they are spear heading in the country. “Fruit and vegetables are important components of a healthy diet, and their sufficient daily consumption could help prevent major diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers,” explained Achiki.