Thursday, June 20, 2024

Urban farming amid the coronavirus storm


No one gets a buzz out of her work quite like Wangari Kuria. The 36-year old urban farmer is passionate about organic farming and healthy eating and has never stopped once in preaching this gospel to urban dwellers. She is currently farming in Kitengela, on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

Besides soiling her hands in the farm, she is a digital content creator around smart farming and runs her YouTube channel Wangary farmer on fire. She also offers training in agribusiness.

Africa Sustainability Matters reporter Sumaya Noor caught up with Wangari to find out how the Covid-19 storm has affected her business and how best families can cope with food supply disruptions and the ensuing price volatility.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected food supply among small-scale farmers like you?

Indeed it has. And as a result, prices of several food items have jumped through the roof, some even tripling.  Garlic and onions supply has especially been affected and we’re already experiencing a shortage.

This has been worsened by travel restrictions and chokeholds on the Kenya-Tanzania common border. Remember much of such food items come from neighbouring countries. Locally, farmers have adopted a wait-and-see stance, unsure whether to make new farming investments and this is having a major impact.

While supply of several foodstuffs is down to a trickle, consumption, on the other end, has remained high because everyone is at home, including children, who would otherwise be in school.

With more people working from home, what can they do to ensure food security at household level?

I would encourage people to farm from where they are – kitchen gardens, old buckets and sacks can, for instance, make an urban garden.

To hack it, start with the basics – greens, onions and tomatoes – then scale up from there. It can also be fun if you actively engage your children to water and maintain the garden. This would provide a welcome break away from the screen into a physical activity.

Notice that with urban farming, crop production is near urban markets, and so it reduces overdependence on supplies from rural countryside, hundreds of miles away. This essentially means less exposure to diet and price interruptions during travel curbs and should countryside roads be washed away in heavy rains as the effects of climate change get ever so intense. Then, there is the jobs aspect, in the sense that young people don’t have to go all the way upcountry in order to practice farming. They can still do it, right from their backyards.

Which crops are specifically easy to grow at home, grow faster and with a higher chance of surviving?

Good question. To begin with, coriander (dhania), onions, garlic, herbs, and chilies are rarely attacked by pests. They are insect repellants and, as a result, can be intercropped with your vegetables as a natural anti-pest safeguard.

Equally, leafy vegetables grow pretty fast. Growing food in a greenhouse also makes them grow faster.

Ordinarily, most vegetables take 3 weeks to mature, oyster mushroom (one month), tomatoes (3 months) and 4 months for onions. These are good starting points.

Even with the economic shock from the pandemic, demand for food is still high, creating a business opportunity for agri-preneurs. With thousands of people having lost their jobs, what is your advice to those considering taking up farming?

Just start! Learn on the job, consult and research, whether it’s on YouTube or from experts or those who have been farming for some time. Make up your mind which crop you want to narrow down to, of course depending on the resources you have.

For more information on how to start off, I have an online 21-day farming challenge which you can take a look.

My Farmer on fire platform offers free consultations, including costs of production so that you have the required reserves to last you till the end of the crop season. Most farmers struggle because they don’t reserve an emergency fund. It’s a question of planning.

As a person who has been doing this for some time, my counsel is that don’t expect millions to rain down on you overnight. Success should be measured via various metrics, not just profit especially during the learning phase. Be patient and persistent.

Read also: Nairobi emerges Africa’s best ecofriendly tourism destination city

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