Urban dwellers can now grow vegetables and other fresh produce in their backyard and harvest over 10 times yields compared to open farming thanks to a bag gardening technology which has been introduced to help cushion them from the rising prices of basic commodities like onions, vegetables and tomatoes which eat up into their incomes.
The technology which is an improvement of the old maize sack bags is quickly gaining prominence among the urban dwellers with over 200 having been sold in a period of about five months. The increased demand for the product is attributed to the benefits that the bags promise the farmers. “The bags are made from an Ultra-violet inhibiting material that protects the tender plants from damaging sun rays. This UV material gives the bags a 10 year lifespan compared to the common sacks that only last for about three months. In addition, they ensure economical use of the elusive space in urban areas as one can plant about 80 plants in one square metre,” explained Harry Day a Programme Officer at Real Impact an organization that has pioneered the technology. He adds that the bags are improved to ensure that high yields are attained as the roots of the crops are well spaced hence the plants don’t compete for nutrients.
The bags are easy to use and come with instructions for the fresh users. They are also sold in different sizes with the size determining the number of plants that can be accommodated for instance a medium size that can hold about 60 plants is sold at Sh800 while an 80 plant bag goes for Sh1100. One does not need to make holes in the bag as they are already there. Day explained that growing of the plants on the sides ensures 10 times productivity as compared to growing on the farmland.
To plant crops in the bag, one needs soil, compost and the seedlings of the desired crop. Mix the soil and the compost on a fifty basis and pour the mixture in the bag. After filling the bag with the mixture, Day advised that it should be monitored for a few days to ensure that it is firm and mixture compacts together to hold the plants when planted. The seedlings are then transplanted and planted into the holes from the outside and proper crop management like spraying of pesticides should be observed for better results. The plants are also irrigated and this is done from the top as water permeates through to the bottom.
The beauty about this technology is that it can be practiced by anyone including those with disabilities since it is less labour intensive and is easy to monitor since it is ideal in the backyard. Weeding is also reduced since the only openings in the bag which permit a plant growth is where the crops are planted and in addition one does not need to tire from bending while harvesting since the plants are in a raised bag. Day noted that the bags support vegetable like kales, cabbage, carrots, amaranth among others.
The bags promise high returns with the medium size able to give a farmer over 3 kilograms of vegetables per week for a 16 weeks period. The over 10 years shelf life of the bags posess ensures that one gets maximum output out of each garden bag. “The bag can be used for over 10 years and to re-plant in the bag, one only needs to replace the soil and compost in the bag with a fresh one,” noted Day.
Although the country wide roll out of the bags has not yet been done, the bags demand has increased and Real Impact apart from selling them in Thika, have also made inroads in Kisumu. With the dwindling size of arable land due to urbanization, the adoption of the garden bags may offer a solution to hundreds of thousands of urban dwellers who are increasingly turning to farming for subsistence and business.