By Pauline Okeng’a

Nairobi residents who lost jobs as a result of Covid-19 pandemic have ventured into alternative income generating activities for survival. Many became innovative in growing short term or fast maturing crops in their residential apartments.

These are owing to the food prices that skyrocketed amid Covid-19 pandemic and retrenchment that ensued. The abrupt and rapid increase of food prices especially fresh vegetables, made residents to utilize their backyards such balconies, verandah, and other open spaces in their compounds for horticulture.

Most crops grown in these residential apartments are kales, spinach, onions and other green vegetables. Majority of these crops are easy to grow in that  they need very minimal  labour to flourish.

A group of women in Saika, Dandora estate formed a kitchen garden farming group (Chama) after losing jobs. This came as a result of Covid-19 pandemic hitting the country hard especially Nairobi County.

For these women, Covid-19 came as an eye opener bringing them closer to each other than ever before. With the unity, three women started utilizing idle spaces in their residential apartments for growing vegetables.

Harvesting kales for families consumption

Jane Maina, Pauline Njoki and Ann Wanjiru are now practicing kitchen garden farming to feed their families and sell surplus. Mrs Maina offered her part of residential compound to carry out the simple innovative farming technique using old car tyres.

Here these women grow kales, spinach and onions.

According to Mrs Maina, life became unbearable in the city after retrenchment but she never gave up. The idea of kitchen garden farming emerged from a friend in Kariobangi estate when she went visiting. She enquired more information about the farming technique and never kept quiet but shared it with her neighbors who became so much interested and picked it up.

“I saw the opportunity that could enable me feed my family and sell extra to neighborhood and survive. I first shared the idea with the friends then started on my own.  Immediately the friends saw the seriousness I had about the plan, they joined without hesitation,”Mrs Maina explains.

“We had spread large polythene bags on the ground then place the tyres filled with soil ready for planting,” Mrs Maina adds.

Old tyres used as garden to grow kales

According this women group, the tyres are arranged in rows and columns painted in different attractive colors to make them look more appealing. Again old tyres are readily available locally, cost effective and conserve water to the vegetables.

“Our kitchen garden project doesn’t require a lot of labour. In fact, after the seedlings have germinated from nursery bed and transplanted to main seedbed, the remaining work is just watering,” Njoki affirms.

The space in the backyard and verandah may be small but this is not an obstacle for to this women group. Their efforts are beating these hurdles by carrying out research and consult widely from other experts and thus have made this horticultural practice more productive.

The women began this kitchen garden farming with simple tools they had. Today they have bought purchased more tools while others they creatively made by themselves.

Since April, when Covid-19 situation worsens in the city and government enforced containments measures such lockdowns and stay at home among others, these women feed their families with less stress. They harvest vegetables twice a week and sell surplus to nearby neighbours.

The trio women admit that other women are admiring their kitchen garden while some are just impatient to join them any time. However, the challenge is lack of enough space to expand the project and accommodate more people.

Backyard space in the compound used for production

“We are planning to expand the project if we get more space so that more women can join. This means we shall also grow other vegetables like tomatoes which require a lot labour in terms of pruning, staking or propping,” Wanjiru discloses.

“This kitchen garden has benefited my family so much. The only vegetables I buy nowadays are tomatoes.”  To some people tomatoes might not be that necessary in preparing kales but it generally colours green meals,” Mrs Njoki says while smiling.

“I do save up to Ksh50 every day that I used to spend in kales, onions and tomatoes. This is the reason why most of our friends and neighbours want to join us,” she adds.

The kitchen garden farming is a way of saving money, eating fresh, healthy and nutritious foods right from the compound. One saves time as well since no walking to the market or using motorbike, so it more economical.

Without any agricultural skills background, these ladies are successful in their horticultural practice. They use decomposed waste from the garbage pit in their neighborhood, kitchen waste as organic fertilizers and fetch water from local boreholes for the crops. The ladies also do spray the vegetables weekly with none chemical pesticides.

“We harvest the vegetables before spraying and only harvest the quantity enough for our families consumption. Unless there is demand from our neigbhours, we rarely harvest more for sell,” Mrs Maina explains.

“I have benefited from this horticulture gardening in a great way. When Covid-19 cost me my job, I was stressed but with this project, my perspective has since changed. No stress any more, eat normally and even much better,” Wanjiru admits.

Fresh spinach growing in the compound backyard

Wanjiru says the only disadvantage with their horticultural practice is diseases. Though not so much that affects the whole garden, the fear is if it spread to other crops. This could really discourage their efforts and end their dream of forming a major women farming group registered by law.

The three women group kitchen garden farming is now replicating in other parts of Nairobi estates. For example, next t to Wanjiru’s compound, another woman is practicing it. Monica Simiyu has also begun growing vegetables though using sacks.

“I talked to my landlord about the initiative and he permitted me. So, I grow kales in verandah using sacks thus utilizing the vertical space to my advantage,” Mrs Simiyu says.

“I can’t complain. I have enough time at home, energy to do the farming so Covid-19 could be a blessing in disguise. I have lived here for long but never thought of such a thing,” Mrs Simiyu asserts.

Mrs Simiyu said luckily enough the weather this year has been fair making her work easier.  The only thing she does is watering and spraying.

Mrs Simiyu admits she got more ideas from the three women who came together and formed a farming group. She applauds the trio for their expertise based on experience without any special training or skills.

These ladies have taken advantage of Covid-19 restrictions to improve their livelihoods through food production, feed their families, neighborhoods, save money and live healthy.