Marathon runner Paul Tergat gives children of Stara Academy in Kibera some porridge when World Food Programme officials visited the school last month. WFP said the feeding programme helped keep children in school. Photo/JENNIFER MUIRURI
When the idea of starting a project to grow food crops in one of the slum areas of Nairobi was first put forward, it sounded next to impossible. No wonder pupils of Gitiba Primary School in Dagoretti were quick to dismiss the initiative as unworkable. They were convinced that food cannot be grown in ghettoes where they lived. Moreover, the place, like other city slums, is overcrowded and they do not even have space to play in. But the idea has now worked, with the establishment of a m ulti-storey garden. And the school where the demonstration garden for the project is based is in the process of becoming a model of food growing in slums or other overcrowded areas of the country’s urban centres.
A multi-storey garden is an upright sack or a large plastic bag filled with soil, with food crops like vegetables, kales, carrots, or onions planted in tiers. And the garden is part of a government-initiated programme commonly known as Njaa Marufuku Kenya (Eradicate Hunger in Kenya), which the Ministry of Agriculture has been implementing since 2005. The objective of the programme, according to the national coordinator of Njaa Marufuku Kenya, Mrs Philomena Chege, is to reduce poverty and improve food security in the country. Mrs Chege says the programme has helped address the food security problem in several parts of the country. “We have financed numerous projects initiated by organised groups of farmers, women and youths,” Mrs Ch e ge told the Nation during an interview.
Gitiba is a catchment area for pupils living in sprawling slums that surround the busy Dagoretti Market. It is one of the areas of the city where poverty bites and most of the hapless children usually rely on school-feeding programmes for their survival. Currently, the multi-storey garden project, which was introduced at the institution at the end of last year, can be said to be a success story. At least several homes in the six slums surrounding the school have multi-storey gardens established and managed by the pupils.
The slums Njiku, Kamwanya, Ichagitho, Mworoto, Ndunyu, and Quarry are notorious for their chang’aa dens. Some parents in the area have neglected their children and left them at the mercy of the school administration. Residents believe most of the children would be on the streets if there was no free education. Since the World Food Programme (WFP) sponsors a feeding programme at the school, the ch i ldren are assured of a meal a day.
A teacher at the school, Mr Karuku Njugi, sold the idea of the multi-storey garden to the pupils. “I had attended the Nairobi International Trade Fair last year where I happened to come across a brochure by Njaa Marufuku Kenya,” Mr Njugi recalled. The booklets, which were being distributed to the public, talked of fighting poverty in the slums through projects like multi-storey gardens. This attracted the teacher. It was due to the pathetic situation at the school, where a big number of children rely on one meal a day. He said cases of children yawning and sleeping in class early in the morning as they complain of hunger are common at the school.
So, after getting the brochure, he decided to contact the area district agriculture extension officer at the divisional headquarters in Waithaka. “I wanted to know how children in the school could benefit from the project and this is how the agriculture officer s helped the school to develop a multi-storey garden,” Mr Njugi said. They did this by inviting the school to Karen Estate, where people have started similar projects. Initially, the garden appeared strange and a liability to the children, the teacher said. Having been born and brought up in an urban area, Mr Njugi said, the children detested laying their hands on soils to mix it and make the garden inside the sack or plastic bag.
However, it was after assurances that they would no longer sleep hungry as is the case in most of the city slums that the project became a success. The children, with the assistance of their teacher, Mr Njugi, and agriculture extension officers, have established numerous multi-storey demonstration gardens in their school compound. Today, many pupils and their parents acknowledge that it is easier to provide a plate of ugali on the table when there is a multi-storey garden in their ghettoes.
“Lunch and even supper is no longer a big problem. We only need a packet of unga as sukumawiki (kales) or spinach are readily available,” 10-year-old Margaret Wanjiru says. She is one of the pupils who embraced the idea of multi-storey gardens when it was introduced at their school. Her mother, Ms Grace Njeri Njenga, who has been supporting her daughter in her new project, said: “It has saved a lot of money for us. We want to multiply the gardens and ensure we have enough food supply.” They have their multi-storey gardens at the back of their houses, where there is very little space. And they have planted kales, spinach and onions. In future, Mrs Njenga said they will look for more space, even if it means having some of the multi-storey gardens at the doorstep of their three- roomed iron sheet house.
At Njiku slums, 12-year-old Rosemary Njeri planted kales in her multi-storey garden outside her mother’s house. But chickens started destroying them. Now she has lifted it and tied it with a s tring to the rafter of the roof of their dilapidated iron sheet house. “We are now happy that during lunch or supper we can pluck the kales and prepare ugali without using money,” the girl, who is in Class Five, said.