Agriculture of Hard Knocks: Ex-Cons Start Organic Farm in Kenyan Slum

By Rachel Cernansky | February 5, 2009 4:23 pm

farmer.gifSlums are all the rage these days, though for the millions living in them, the reality is less about entertainment than survival. But as part of a youth group based in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, several ex-cons have started the region’s first organic farm.

With an estimated one million people living in an area smaller than Central Park, Kibera makes headlines more often for things like flying toilets—people using plastic bags, and sometimes throwing them out the window, when latrines are unavailable—than for the availability of fresh produce.

But in the midst of the instability following the election in Kenya last year, Victor Matioli and his 36-member Youth Reform Group met with Su Kahumbu from Green Dreams, an organic produce company, to discuss the possibility of starting a farm in the slum.

In order to avoid putting pesticides and other additional chemicals into the soil, Kahumbu decided to teach the group organic, rather than conventional, farming methods.

Last April, they cleaned up the site, compacting and tying up trash instead of disposing it, and unearthed a new layer of soil, a sample of which Kahumbu sent for analysis. The results came back showing high levels of zinc, but not so high that it couldn’t be neutralized by planting sunflowers with the vegetables. The farmers also used a worm bin to compost food scraps for fertilizer.

Kahumbu’s brother even pitched in and installed drip-irrigation pipes connected to a water tank. Within two months of planting their first vegetables, including pumpkin, cabbage and kale, the group had their first successful harvest. By August, they were making a profit.

Check out this slideshow to see how just green organic farming can be.

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Image: Flickr / oneVillage Initiative

MORE ABOUT: food, Kenya, organic farming
  • Anthony Muhia

    I’m mainly encouraged by the Kibera reformed youths and thier organic farm.Its very encouraging to pioneer such a project in places where farming is unthought of due to congestion-space being so scarce.
    I’m also an organic farmer and a youth too with very humble and difficult beginning. I started small on a kitchen garden 3×5 meters in year 2000 as a hobby. I grey more than enough for our home sharing extra with friends.
    In year 2005 I saw a business opportunity and switched my career from an electronics engineer to an organic farmers.
    I’ve hard it rough for never had any capital and comings from an average family of civil servants it was insanity not to be employed and become a farmer. Everyone was against me but never abandoned my vision.
    Despite all this stress the little I had like 40/= is what I’d buy seedlings with instead of doing drugs to alleviate my stress. Other challenges: land ownership and victimisation by false accusation to administration and police.
    This has made me strong not weak.

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