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    By Fredrique Achieng’

    Tight times and rising food prices can leave urban dwellers stranded, but one resident in Kikuyu is proving that barely more than a couple of metres of space is enough to keep an urban family fed and even produce some commercial returns, using vertical farming.

    With the current population of Nairobi at 4.3m and expected to balloon to 12.1m by 2030, the risk of urban food shortages has only grown, as have prices too. For instance, the price of a kilo of Kale rose by 63.2 per cent in 2017 from Sh38 to Sh60, according to KNBS.

    But Paul Mwai is an example of an urban dweller who has worked to give his family food security by venturing into vertical gardening three years ago, from his home in Karai, Kikuyu.

    “What really pushed me to look at this venture was the high price of common food commodities such as coriander, spinach, kales, broccoli and herbs. For example in 2018, the price of a single bunch of coriander was Sh5, but in 2020 the same bunch is sold at Sh10 and this is not the only commodity that has increased in price,” said Paul.

    A study by Mazingira Institute showed that 29 per cent of urban dwellers practice urban crop farming and 17 per cent practice animal rearing in Nairobi, in a percentage that could even curtail rising urban agricultural prices if home farming rises further.

    Currently, however, about 60 per cent of individuals in Nairobi depend on purchasing food commodities from supermarkets and food markets.

    Related News: Kabete farmer moves into all-year, organic strawberries through vertical farming

    In his venture, Paul uses vertical pyramids of about 8 inches per layer to grow a variety of vegetables, such as kales, spinach, broccoli, coriander, beetroot and herbs.

    “There are different ways of vertical gardening, with the most common one being sack gardening, which I first started with. Unfortunately, this did not prove viable, since after every six months I had to change the sack, but with using polymer plastic, I have not changed my garden material for the past three years,” he said.

    Aside from the fast rotting period, another disadvantage of sacks is that they tend to be bulky and may require more space to achieve a variety of crops. But with the plastic layers, Paul is able to grow a large variety in just five vertical pyramids.

    “This method has assured me of a constant supply of vegetables throughout the year as a single pyramid can hold 80 to 100 plants. On each pyramid I have mixed my vegetables as this helps with limiting pest invasions of my vegetables,” he said.

    Related News: Urban residents can reduce cost of living by using vertical bags to grow food

    The process of mixing soil for a vertical pyramid is similar to mixing soil for sack gardening, the components may vary if one is focusing on organic farming or traditional farming.

    Currently, Paul is looking for a market for vegetables that he is growing this year as he has decided to commercialize his farming venture.

    He can be reached on 0721868303

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    IMG 20200729 WA0021

    By George Munene

    On a 50 by 100 feet plot of land in Kasarani, Francis Milwani and his wife Mary Waithera run a thriving vegetable and fruit farm. Despite living some 9km away in Umoja estate, most days their 9 to 5 is taken up with farm work. From their little plot, the two have everything from kales, strawberries, apple and tamarillo (tree tomato) trees, to lemongrass, pawpaws, amaranth, kunde, managu, mafaki, tomatoes, ginger, spring onions and pumpkins.

    Initially, they were telephone farmers, with their farm based in Kisumu. This proved unworkable as the farm’s caretaker was unreliable.

    Francis explains: “Fruits such as vanilla demand ritual attentive care and we were unable to provide this thousands of kilometres away.”

    In 2018, they shifted their vegetable and strawberry farming operation to Nairobi’s Kasarani area having reached an agreement with the landowner to pay their rent in produce. They provide him with organic fresh farm vegetables and strawberries from the plot.

    Related News: Farmbiz competition: Sack farming innovators

    Related News:Kabete farmer moves into all-year, organic strawberries through vertical farming

    In starting, their main cost was for 300 strawberry seedlings, which they bought at Sh50 per seedling and Sukuma seedlings, which they bought at Sh1,000. Their steadiest source of income thus far has been their 150 kales—they sell at least Sh400-worth every week.

    For the strawberries, they harvest about 2kg a week and practice value addition by using them to make jam. This remains wholly for domestic consumption. They have about 500 strawberry plants now, but are working to propagate more of them and increase the quantities they harvest before commercialising this venture.

    For planting, they recycle all the materials available to them, which, in an urban setting, is not in short supply. They mainly fill soil in cement bags to grow their sukuma wiki, but they also use various plastic containers as well.

    Related News:Fact sheet: how to make a vertical sack garden

    For health reasons, they have eschewed using chemicals and farm purely organic produce. With this comes the challenge of pests, which they have researched and devised ingenious ways of tackling. They treat their soil with ash to ward off aphids and ants. To combat whiteflies, aphids and slugs they use a mixture of garlic, ginger and chillies pounded and mixed in water that they spray onto their kales and fruit trees. They have also learnt that slugs prefer red ripe strawberries so they harvest them just before they ripen entirely.

    In fact, slugs are an abiding problem for the couple and they still lose output to them constantly. But most other challenges they have succeeded in surmounting. For manure purposes, they use a compost of kitchen remains. They have also built a temporary makeshift tank made of wood posts, iron sheet and tent material to store borehole water that they buy from tankers.

    Francis and his wife are both part-time artists as well as farmers and are working to have 2-3 acres of farmland in both Kisumu and Nyahururu under apple and tamarillo trees.

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    CAR0345 A hBy John Matava

    Carrots are becoming more popular as commercial crops for smallholders due to their marketability, short maturity and low labour needs. Nantes carrots take 60 to 75 days from planting and unlike other varieties, like Chantenay, Purple Drago, Atomic Red and Autumn King, it is highly resistant to powdery mildew, a disease capable of killing about 70 per cent of the crops in a farm. It also offers a deep orange colour and sweet taste that consumers prefer. Currently a kilo of Nantes is retailing at Sh45.

    Related News:

    How to achieve high yields in carrots

    ABC’s of carrot cultivation


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