From trash to treasure
What started off as an effort to keep Naivasha town clean, evolved into a self-sustaining community farming project and jewellery making business. This was after garbage collector and permaculturist James Kagwe saw an opportunity from the waste he was collecting, which would go into producing healthy organic food for the people living in his community.
“We had partnered with the local government to run a garbage collection service and the people were also working well with us. Initially, we thought we were doing a good job by keeping the town clean as we were consolidating the waste to take it to a designated dumpsite in the area,” said James. However, it soon dawned on him and his team that they were only transferring a problem.
“The dumpsite was next to a housing estate so essentially, we were moving rubbish from a number of housing areas to one and it was counterproductive,” James explained.
This was the turning point that gave rise to Waste to Best Action Group. They realised that the garbage they had been dumping was actually a hot commodity which could be put to use in a circular economy to turn waste into resources.
“Since about 80 per cent of what we collect is domestic waste which is organic, we came up with a project of making organic compost. This compost is used as a component for gardening,” said James adding that organic farming is a system that uses locally available resources and reduces reliance on expensive external inputs.
This is also in line with the principles of permaculture, which is an applied version of agroecology, pegged on designing a farm in patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The design also aims to ensure that one practices farming using ways that do not deplete the earth’s natural resources. We met up with him at a plot of land, right off the Naivasha – Nakuru highway, where he works with a team. It is at this spot that they separate all the garbage they have collected and also make the compost manure.
They use donkey carts to carry the garbage and deliver it to the site where they sort it all out – plastics, glass, food waste, paper, and so on. They sell the plastic bottles at KSh 5 per 1kg, which comprises of about 32 bottles. As for paper waste, they are sold to a recycling company which produces toilet paper or carton boxes.
“In permaculture, we talk about regenerative systems because sustainability means maintain our environment using resources produced naturally,” James explained. On the same parcel of land, they are keeping some animals – sheep, goats, ducks and chicken. The chicken and ducks are particularly resourceful because they help in turning the compost.
The group has other projects in other locations around Naivasha – they run a community garden to offer training on permaculture, a school garden, urban farming and also have a jewellery making component.
The whole idea behind having a community garden is to demonstrate to the people what they do with the trash they collect from their homes – turning it into organic compost. Also, they hope it will inspire people to grow their own food. The training is offered for free. The garden is divided into small sections where each farmer gets to learn how to grow food using the organic compost and learn about the principles of permaculture. At the edges of the farm, there are old items repurposed as plant growing pots. There are broken buckets, basins, old tyres, even a toilet bowl.
Trainer Liz Wagacha said: “We train on mulching, pest control, water harvesting, educate women and the community and are establishing a tree nursery.”
She added that they are already working with some schools in the area to introduce children to agriculture and teach them how healthy food is grown through a weekly training programme.
Elsewhere, Rose Waruguru has created a niche for herself by turning waste into accessories.
“We take the waste paper and make beads from it. We then make necklaces and bracelets using these beads. We also make mats and carpets,” said Rose adding that they are currently working with a group of women who train others from the community.
By Lillian Onyango
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