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Going organic in Kenya’s biggest slum

March 30, 2009

A group from east Africa’s biggest slum has proved that you don’t need a big farm in the countryside to produce food crops for sale.

They’re planting organic vegetables on a small allotment in the middle of Nairobi’s Kibera slum that his been cleared out of an old rubbish tip.

A year ago, nothing grew on their patch of land. Today, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and kale flourish.

Kibera is home to nearly one million people, who mostly live in corrugated iron shacks with no running water.

Victor Matioli grew up a tough inner-city kid. He never imagined that one day he’d be a farmer with a passion for plants and for the soil they grow in.

Matioli and the other members of his youth group started their farm early last year on an abandoned piece of land, where people in the neighbourhood used to tip their rubbish.    

His group calls itself the “Youth Reform”. It has 35 members, all young men who didn’t have jobs and came together to try to find ways of making a living, as he explained to Reuters Television’s Africa Journal.

The farm was initially started so that the members would have some food to fall back on if supplies got scarce following the 2008 post-election violence, when Kibera found itself at the eye of the storm.

Today they grow more than they can eat so they’ve set up a stall to sell their produce.

They don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilisers, so even though they don’t have official certification, their vegetables are technically organic. This means, however, that they can’t sell their produce to Nairobi’s upmarket food outlets.

In any case, organic food is still a niche market, not just in Kenya. Around the world, only 2 percent of farmland is farmed organically.

Matioli’s arguments for organic farming are simpler. His group have managed to increase their income — the farm earns them around $10 each per week, much needed cash around Kibera.

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