Case Study Nairobi (Kenya)

Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya and the main regional hub in East and Central Africa. It is the second largest city in the African great lake regions after Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The administrative area of Nairobi is 696 km2. The city has a population of 3.1 million inhabitants according to the last census done in 2009, while estimates done in 2011, approximated 3.36 million persons. 60% of the residents of Nairobi are low-income earners with a large proportion of them living below the poverty line, in slums and informal settlements in the city.

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Land use zoning map of Nairobi City (Source: Martin Ledant, 2011)

Accessibility and affordability of food especially for the urban poor is a major issue. Due to their low income or poverty status, some urban poor residents have found ways of cutting down their food expenses and subsisting in the city, by practicing various forms of urban agriculture. By growing their own food in various parts of the city, these poor urban residents are able to meet their food demand, and in some cases, sell. In the process, in several of the cases, they are able to earn some extra income from the sale of surplus grown.

Despite the fact that urban farming is widely practiced in Nairobi and evidence that it enhances food security and livelihoods among urban poor households, the practice continues to be shunned and discouraged by many, receiving little support from city authorities and policy makers. The general belief is that urban farming takes place on a scale which is too small to have any significant impact. Therefore, not much attention is given to the practice. Secondly, even where there is sale of produce from small or large-scale commercial urban farming, the public is usually very wary of buying.

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Nairobi, 'Green City in the Sun'

Case Study Objectives

In order to investigate these perceptions and beliefs, the Nairobi FOODMETRES case study set out to understand the nature and sustainability impacts of urban farming in Nairobi. The main objective of the Nairobi case study was to analyse innovations in short food supply chains by studying urban agriculture in Nairobi.

The sub-objectives of the study were to analyse the nature of urban agriculture in Nairobi, identify innovative practices in urban gardening and assess the social, economic and environmental sustainability impacts of the various forms of urban farming.

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Multi-storey garden used to grow several food crops at the same time. Essential in areas that have limited space. (Source: Bancy Kinuthia)

Research Activities

A number of research activities were conducted. These included two stakeholder workshops and fieldwork where interviews and questionnaires were administered to urban farmers and a range of key informants working with and/or supporting the urban farmer’s activities. The Nairobi case study concentrated on one sub-region of the city known as Makadara sub-county as shown in the map.

Located in Eastland’s, the marginalised part of the city, Makadara Sub-County contains some of the oldest planned public housing residences. These housing areas have numerous pockets of open spaces that are used for urban farming by some of the residents. However, due to the high population density, there is limited space. As a result, some of the residents in the area have come up with innovative urban farming methods.

The study established that urban farming in Nairobi is varied, and depends on the space where the gardening takes place. The main spaces where farming takes place include: 1) in people’s backyards or home gardens and 2) in garden plots away from home in public open spaces. Most of this type of farming is very small scale, for subsistence or household use. Any surplus is sold nearby.

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Nairobi FoodMetres Stakeholders Workshop at Chiromo Conference Centre, University Of Nairobi. (Source: Sebastiaan Soeters)

Where the backyard spaces and garden plots away from home are limited the innovative gardening practices are adopted like the use of sacks and tins or multi story-gardens. The former (sacks and tins) are in use by the majority of the residents in the study area. The latter (multi-story gardens) are rather complicated to set up and require training, thus they have been adopted by fewer households. Both these types of farming are used in the household while the surplus is sold in the neighbourhood.

Some forms of limited small to large-scale commercial farming takes place in Nairobi, practiced mainly in institutional land belonging to public institutions like schools, churches or hospitals and on public open spaces (usually unutilized plots, road or railway reserves).

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Mr. Francis Wachira, a successful Urban Farmer in Nairobi being interviewed about his farming practices. He grows over 50 different types of food crops. (Source: Bancy Kinuthia)