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HomeFood Stories from KenyaKitchen gardening: the new normal.
Photo c/o Silke Bollmohr

Kitchen gardening: the new normal.

With many consumers gradually losing trust with the quality of fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits, available in the local market, many urban settlers are taking up kitchen gardening also known as urban farming to supplement their dietary needs. The urban poor are also not left behind with many engaging in kitchen gardening to mitigate food insecurity within their families and communities.

With genuine concerns on the long term health hazards caused by commercialisation of the food systems, poor handling of fresh food products and pesticides residues on vegetables, consumers have continuously sought a safer and a more reliable way of accessing fresh and safe vegetables, fruits and herbs. Many urban dwellers and consumers have discovered the need to have a kitchen garden. A kitchen garden is a simple, reliable, small backyard or balcony garden usually made of recycled materials where an individual can grow vegetables, herbs and fruits. With such a garden, the owner has control over all farm inputs and techniques applied to the garden.

From simple backyard, kitchen and balcony gardens in the privileged neighborhoods in the city to the communally owned urban gardens in the informal settlements of Nairobi, majority of consumers are growing safe food by being in control of what they plant, the farm inputs they apply to the crops, soil improvement techniques they use and the water they irrigate their crops. A number of consumers are also practicing small animal husbandry on their kitchen gardens rearing chicken, rabbits and ducks. All these effort, is primarily focused on ensuring reliable access to safe, nutritious, quality and organic food. Majority of these urban farmers, who own kitchen gardens use organic farm inputs and avoid the use of pesticides, chemicals and fertilizers to boost production hence making the food produced on these valuable small spaces free of any forms of chemicals.

David Osogo, a  researcher at African Population & Health Research Centre(APHRC), says majority of consumers are now aware that food accessible in the market might not be good for their health mainly due to its quality, how it is grown, pesticides residues and how it is handled before reaching the consumer majorly due to the massive consumer awareness carried out by both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Many consumers in Kenya are also keen to eat healthy at a low cost, hence kitchen gardening providing the right solution to cost cutting while producing relatively safe food.

With the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbating food shortage, exposing the weaknesses in our food systems with instances of sharp demand and short supply, delayed fresh food products deliveries due to inter-county travel complications and lack of money to buy food mainly by urban informal consumers contributed to consumers from all walks of lives starting to practice kitchen gardening in order to meet their dietary needs.

George Njoroge, an informal settlement resident, lost his job at the start of the pandemic. Having to stay at home and not able to afford buying food daily, he started a small kitchen farm. These activities have helped him remain financially stable while providing for his family in the Mukuru informal settlement. Collectively owned urban gardens across the city have increased food availability, improved food access, improved food variety, provided a controllable stable source of food, provided food and supplemented nutritional needs not only to informal settlers like George but also residents from all over the country.

The Ministry of Agriculture is stepping up efforts to encourage every Kenyan to have a kitchen garden. Apart from the Ministry setting up a demonstration farm at Kilimo House, it is also engaging in the 1 million kitchen garden initiative geared towards supplying Kenyan households with sacks, seeds, water tanks and other inputs to help address severe food shortages. Alice Njoroge is an Agronomist in Nairobi County and sees kitchen gardening as gaining food independence. “By controlling all the farm inputs in one’s kitchen garden you gain independence from chemicals used in growing most of the food available on the local market, you will also handle your food carefully and properly hence being food secure,” adds Ms. Njoroge.

According to Ms. Njoroge, food produced on kitchen gardens following the right kitchen gardening principles is 100% chemical free and safe to consume at any time for there is no waiting time for organic pesticides for they are easily washed off with water. Apart from providing food security, kitchen gardening is also therapeutic.

With a new decade starting, many consumers are normalizing kitchen gardening, their efforts are paid off by having a reliable source of fresh food. Relevant stakeholders need to continue supporting individuals through both technical skills and by input provision especially for the financially challenged households to ensure that kitchen gardening becomes the new normal in this decade hence realising food security.

By Daniel Muteti, an alliance member with the RTFI

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