Sukuma wiki (Kales) is a common vegetable thatvmany Kenyans eatbin their homes. It has been here for a long time and many people are earning a lively hood from this tasty vegetable. Below is todays success story features a city farmer growing sukuma wiki on an acre plot.
Mawe Mbili off Kangundo Road in Nairobi’s Ruai area suggests two stones— orrocks —in Kiswahili. Whilethe actual rocks thatgave this eastern suburb of Kenya’s capital its name may notbe obvious toa visitor, the neighbourhood’s rocky terrain belies presence of a phenomenal agriculturalenterprise, whose replication could transform Nairobi County into a net food exporter.
The Saturday Nationteam had been waiting at the Ruai Bridge rendezvous for one-and-a-half hourswhen finally, at noon and amid a threateningdownpour, a van withvisitors on amission tosee what a small urbanplotcould produce, arrived.
University of Nairobi soil scientist Nancy Karanja, who had tipped us off onthe visitors from Kajiado, ledthe convoy to her namesake’s farm.
Withthe gait of oneused to receiving similar visitors, Mrs Karanja takes usona tourof her one-acre plot, thesize of your average up-market city estate—Lavington, Loresho orKitisuru. A plot inup-market Karen measures halfto two-and-a-half acres, the latterbeing the minimum acreage previously allowed.
It is evident that Mrs Karanja wants to finish withussoonestpossible to be able to dedicate herselfto the visitors, who have come from distantKajiado to learnfrom her initiative, hence thereare no ceremonies as we move from one production unit toanother.
There are 17 Friesian heifers in the zero-grazing unit,10of them in milk. They produce 300litres a day, on average. “I onlydeal withFriesian because theyhave a lotof milk,” Mrs Karanja says, adding, “I sell itat Supaloaf”— one ofNairobi’s major bakeries.
Feeding 17 heifers ona small plot must be a challenge, and the question of where she gets their feeds follows. The cows thriveon horticultural waste, which the farmer gets from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
ADDING VALUE TO WASTE
A pick-up load at Sh1,000 lasts two days after mixing itwith the hay she gets from Narok.
ProfKaranja, whom I had engaged earlier onthe waste disposal-food security link, explains that Naivasha and Naro Moru are major horticulturalproducers. Technically, therefore,the feed comes from far, far away.
“What does notgo out, she gets back. That is adding value to waste,” says Prof Karanja, who is the director of Micren—the Microbial Resources Centreand Larmat—Land Resource Management and AgriculturalTechnology—at the UoN’s Faculty of Agricultureand Veterinary Sciences. The waste “is very high quality; very high in proteins because thereis a lot of legume,” the don explains.
Proximity to the airport makes iteasy for Mrs Karanja toget the feed thatalso nourishesthe two dairy goats she started raising recently. “I’ve noticed that goat milk is very nutritiousand I wantitfor my family,” says the mother ofthree, who ditched heraccountancy career in2008 for farming, which she started with three Friesians.
AtSh38 per litre of milk, the farmer makes Sh11,400 per day from hercows. Put anotherway, she earns Sh342,000per monthfrom milk sales.
From threeto17 cattleina short fouryears is astounding…but itbecomes mind-boggling to a scribe when she says they would be 36—more than twice the number at the time of the interview, if she had not sold others.
“I do Kilimo biashara (agribusiness),” she says. People think urbanfarming is just a hobby; itis nolonger ahobby but a business.”
Givenitwas Prof Karanja who linked me up withMrs Karanja, I’m curious about where the donfits in the whole venture.
AlthoughMrs Karanja interacts more closely withthe Ministry of Agriculture,the donsays, herinterestas a soil scientistis more on nutrients…“harvesting nutrients from waste and returningthem tothe soil so thatwe can have sustainable agriculture,” she says.
The farm also has kienyeji (indigenous) chicken, which lay at least 10 eggs every day. “I don’t buy eggs,” Mrs Karanja says. Some of herchickens are from Uganda and are serviced by a cockerel from India.
“We wantto breed them and see how it works,” she says. Mrs Karanja’s believes the birds coming from abroad will be more resistant to fowl diseases. The Ugandan breed is perceived tohave more meat, and withthe hensshowing an 80-90 per cent hatchingrate, she is onto something big.
The slurry from cow dungand urineis the mainstay of seven greenhouses, which have red capsicum—“it fetches more money that the greenvariety” —cucumber and cowpea at the time of the visit.
Cowpea is harvested monthlyin rotation withthe main cash crops. Shesells herred capsicum at Sh120 a kilo—a throwaway, ProfKaranja says, since the same costs Sh250 at the localsupermarkets. Buteven at thatprice, the 200kg she harvests weekly earns herSh24,000 inseven days.
It takes threemonths beforeharvesting, which continuesfor another fivemonths before the crop is replaced, Mrs Karanja says. “You can do the mathematics,” Prof Karanja quips to underlinethe hidden wealth inurban farming.
Thanks tothe readily available organic fertiliser, which lends a lie to the deafening clamour for genetically modified organisms (GMO) technology as Kenya’s panacea for perennialfood insecurity, the crops in the greenhouse are luscious.
“I’ve started building more greenhouses, because infuture,this willbe my mainstay,” the farmer says.
The vegetables have a ready outletat the City Park and Village markets, she says, even as she trains hereyes on bigger things—horticultural exports. “That is why we are constructingmore greenhouses.”
Apart from providing manurefor the greenhouses, the slurryproduces energy in the form of cooking gas. “I don’t buy gas,” she says.
“Some people complain thattheydon’t have space togrow (crops) or build greenhouses.” Just one rowof cowpeas, she says, fetches Sh800. “So anybody who says that she cannot do this is a liar,” the farmer says, adding, manure is the secret.
Ona moist bed adjacent tothe greenhouses are arrowroots (nduma)—and Mrs Karanja asks an assistant tobring two samples from her latest harvest.They are huge, and I struggle tohold back tears, such is my love for nduma. “They grow very nicely here, (yet) before, we onlyknew that arrowroots grow on ariverbed witha lotof water. It’s a lie; if you justmake a moist bed like this one,thenyou justwater it. The moisture remains even for a week.”
He verdict: farming is a very easy way to survive in the city. “Most people say, ‘I don’t have space’; ‘Our area is very rocky’; ‘We can’t grow anything’; ‘What do you withrocks?’
“You remove them, put manureand get your soil. That is what we did. We tell people, ‘You can grow your vegetables like this,and theyare very smart. You should notgo tothe market because even if you have a very small space, you can also have a multi-storey’”.
The lattertechnologyentails fillinga 1,000-gauge-heavy-duty-used cement bag with soil and layering ittogrow dhania, sukuma wiki and the like. “It is more than enough to feed a family,” Mrs Karanja says.
The farmer has six assistants, who work on shift. She has a fish pond with 2,000 catfish that have been harvested twice and sold locallyafter achieving one-kilogramme weight. They take six monthstomature.
Atthis point, the rain is falling inearnest and we must go.
Source: Daily Nation