Urban Youth In Agriculture



A report on the KeAWARD field visit to voices4change urban agriculture project sites in two Nairobi sub-counties on 18th November 2021

The Kenyan Chapter of the African women in agricultural research and development (KeAWARD) is actively involved in implementing gender-responsive activities that promote agricultural production and environmental conservation both as an entity and in collaboration with partners. The Chapter is currently implementing projects to empower and build the agricultural and economic capacity of women and youth group farmers in counties in Kenya.  These efforts are focussed on building resilience, and improving the economic and livelihood of women and youth in Kenya.

The Chapter has partnered with Voices4Change, an organization that seeks to strengthen the capacity, creativity, and effectiveness of social movements, youth activist groups, and artists in all walks of life to grow and improve the livelihoods of urban poor through urban agriculture. Through its Growth4Change program, Voices4Change is working to eradicate poverty and improve the livelihoods of women and youth groups in Nairobi’s informal settlements and peri-urban neighborhoods through urban agriculture and green growth. The KeAWARD partnership aims to strengthen and enhance the knowledge, skills, and capacity of the women and youth groups currently practicing urban agriculture in two sub-counties. Voices4Change has partnered with Ljusgarda AB, a Swedish company that specializes in hydroponics and indoor vertical farming to set up pilot demo hydroponic projects to empower the youths, grow urban agriculture experts, and enhance the food security of the urban poor. Both partners are implementing activities and programs focused on the achievement of SDGs 1-3, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 16.

The visit to the Growth4Change demo sites was aimed at; 

  1. Engaging and interacting with the youth groups to initiate and foster a mutual partnership
  2. Learn more about the hydroponics and urban agriculture technologies with an aim of identifying areas of mutual interest and collaboration
  3. Establish the status of the urban projects and identify challenges faced by the groups to advise on possible interventions and areas of support
  4. Assess the knowledge, skills, capacity gaps, and needs of the youth farmers with the aim of proposing interventions needed to improve and enhance the performance of urban farming

Five KeAWARD members, accompanied by Charles Lukania, the Growth4Change coordinator visited four youth groups and one farmer who currently runs a pilot tabletop hydroponic setup. 

The first youth group visited (Chamie) has set up a prototype aquaponics system where they raise catfish and herbs such as mint, rosemary, sage, and capsicum. The second group (Campgreen) had vertically stacked gardens on which they grow kales and spinach. They had also set up beds for the production of indigenous vegetables. The third group was an environmental conservation group that had reclaimed a dumb site on the banks of Mathare river and was growing fruit and ornamental trees. The fourth site was a farmer who had a setup hydroponics system and is set to serve as a trainer of the other groups on hydroponics. The last farmer visited produces vegetables on raised beds by irrigation. Two of the groups were using soil-free cultivation techniques with the hydroponic farmer using a growth nutrient to grow vegetables. 

A KeAWARD post-visit meeting was held on 26th November 2021 at KALRO (Biotechnology Centre) for members to exchange views and opinions and draw a consensus on possible interventions and propose potential support from keAWARD. 

The following was observed; 

  • Some group members have good knowledge and background in farming although will require a refresher and more focussed training to move to the next level, others exhibited basic skills and knowledge and would need targeted training and capacity building for economic intensification and diversification, crop production, and disease management. 
    • Although the projects visited were in infancy and low scale, the youth groups were very enthusiastic, and positive and had put a lot of effort and determination to venture and grow into successful agro-enterprises. 
  • Some of the groups had reasonable land for upscaling and diversification allowing for the implementation of a business growth strategy.
    • The groups are capital and resources constrained with a lack of resources such as capital, land, water, and technical know-how. 
    • It was also noted that most of the group members were male. Since both partners are keen to empower women and girls as well through their projects, the groups were encouraged to recruit and involve female members in their activities.

The following challenges facing the urban agriculture projects and the groups visited were identified;

  1. Lack of capital resources to set up and upscale economically viable projects
  2. Lack of adequate training on intensification and diversification of agricultural ventures.
  3. Lack of capacity and technical know-how to profitably practice hydroponics e.g. capital, land, seed capital, sustainable sources of growth nutrients and media, clean water, etc.
  4. Lack of sustainable local source or supply of high-quality growth nutrient substrate, seeds, and seedlings
  5. Inadequate knowledge of crop production and plant disease management
  6. Lack of a clear upscaling and business strategy
  7. Lack of access to clean water and Inadequate training on food safety
  8. Lack of stable lucrative markets for the produce and marketing strategies

Following the KeAWARD post-visit meeting, it was noted that;

  • Setting up of hydroponics production systems is still a costly venture in Kenyan settings, thus, the support from Ljusgarda AB for farmers was welcome.
  • Low-tech and low-cost urban agricultural technologies that are not capital intensive will help overcome the challenge of limited capital and resources for now
  • Sustainable local sources of soil-free nutrient growth medium/substrate and seeds/seedlings will boost the production efforts
  • The farmers need to be empowered to produce growth substrate seeing that coco peat is costly and pumice does not support root formation.
  • The farmers generally lacked skills and knowledge in the diversification of their ventures for maximum profits, disease and pest management in crop production, team dynamics, and market identification.

Proposed interventions

1) Short term

The KeAWARD team has proposed the following interventions to be implemented in the short term;

  1. KeAWARD in collaboration with member organizations will organize a field trip to KARLO Tigoni Potato Centre for the farmers to learn more about urban agriculture. This will be coordinated by Judith Oyoo. While in Limuru, a visit to a successful hydroponic farmer group in Limuru Sub-County will also be planned. This will be implemented as soon as the group is able to host
  2. Other Visits to member organizations such as KARLO Biotechnology center, University, and National Museums will follow as organized by members of these institutions
  3. Train the Greener Life CBO to establish a tree Nursery in their reclaimed dumpsite through conventional breeding. Pans for this training will begin in December with the aim of holding the training by early 2021 
  4. KeAWARD will organize a 3-day farmer capacity building training workshop to cover key topics such as;
    1. Diverse urban agriculture technologies targeting different crops
    1. Disease and pest management in crop production
    1. Food and water safety
    1. Establishment and management of different types of urban gardens
    1. Market access and marketing of agricultural produce with possible market linkages
    1. Farming and diversification in urban spaces
    1. Effective group Team working and leadership

2)  Long term

The following interventions were proposed for implementation in the long term, 

  1. KeAWARD will explore funding opportunities to support research efforts to identify local sources of high-quality growth nutrients for soil-free plant cultivation
  2. Partner with Ljusgarda to localize, customize and optimize low-cost low-tech hydroponic/aquaponic technologies for the farmers
  3. Joint funding proposal application to support the implementation of expanded upscaled urban agriculture technologies
  4. Seek partnership in County and National government to source alternative periurban land for the groups that are in an environmentally safe neighborhood for safe food cultivation and aquaculture
  5. Identify partners to support seed multiplication to ensure the sustainable supply of planting materials
  6. KeAWARD will continuously explore opportunities to promote, mentor, and support the youth groups in and out of the urban agriculture activities including participation in KeAWARD activities as exhibitors

Annex 1:  KeAWARD members who took part and participated in the post-visit meetings

Nora NdegeACTS/SPRU University of Sussex
Dr. Esther KandumaU.O.N
Stella MakokhaKALRO
Virginia Wang’onduU.O.N
Charles LukaniaVOICES4CHANGE
Sarah AkwabiD.V.S Kabete
Margaret LukuyuPrivate Consultant
Judith IlukolKALRO