News and knowhow for farmers

Kikuyu resident proves vertical farming can feed urban families and create income


By Fredrique Achieng’

Tight times and rising food prices can leave urban dwellers stranded, but one resident in Kikuyu is proving that barely more than a couple of metres of space is enough to keep an urban family fed and even produce some commercial returns, using vertical farming.

With the current population of Nairobi at 4.3m and expected to balloon to 12.1m by 2030, the risk of urban food shortages has only grown, as have prices too. For instance, the price of a kilo of Kale rose by 63.2 per cent in 2017 from Sh38 to Sh60, according to KNBS.

But Paul Mwai is an example of an urban dweller who has worked to give his family food security by venturing into vertical gardening three years ago, from his home in Karai, Kikuyu.

“What really pushed me to look at this venture was the high price of common food commodities such as coriander, spinach, kales, broccoli and herbs. For example in 2018, the price of a single bunch of coriander was Sh5, but in 2020 the same bunch is sold at Sh10 and this is not the only commodity that has increased in price,” said Paul.

A study by Mazingira Institute showed that 29 per cent of urban dwellers practice urban crop farming and 17 per cent practice animal rearing in Nairobi, in a percentage that could even curtail rising urban agricultural prices if home farming rises further.

Currently, however, about 60 per cent of individuals in Nairobi depend on purchasing food commodities from supermarkets and food markets.

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In his venture, Paul uses vertical pyramids of about 8 inches per layer to grow a variety of vegetables, such as kales, spinach, broccoli, coriander, beetroot and herbs.

“There are different ways of vertical gardening, with the most common one being sack gardening, which I first started with. Unfortunately, this did not prove viable, since after every six months I had to change the sack, but with using polymer plastic, I have not changed my garden material for the past three years,” he said.

Aside from the fast rotting period, another disadvantage of sacks is that they tend to be bulky and may require more space to achieve a variety of crops. But with the plastic layers, Paul is able to grow a large variety in just five vertical pyramids.

“This method has assured me of a constant supply of vegetables throughout the year as a single pyramid can hold 80 to 100 plants. On each pyramid I have mixed my vegetables as this helps with limiting pest invasions of my vegetables,” he said.

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The process of mixing soil for a vertical pyramid is similar to mixing soil for sack gardening, the components may vary if one is focusing on organic farming or traditional farming.

Currently, Paul is looking for a market for vegetables that he is growing this year as he has decided to commercialize his farming venture.

He can be reached on 0721868303

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