Agricultural land has been under pressure due to uncontrolled urbanization in most growing town centers within Kiambu County including Ruiru and Juja.
The effects of rapid population growth not only in the county but nationally, has necessitated a tremendous shift by planners on how to tackle land use in respect to mushrooming settlements
New technologies have thus come up and two innovative young alumni from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) are counteracting the challenge through urban mode of farming using vertical gardens.
Joash Njani, the founder of Urban Smart Gardeners together with his Co-founder Pramila Nekesa have ventured into providing efficient and easy to manage vertical gardens which are installed using different sizes of PVC pipes, media for plant growth and supporting stand which can either be wooden or metallic
“As youthful and creative minds, we resolved to counter the effects of experienced pressure on agricultural land mostly in growing or upcoming town centers where most population is settled by equipping individuals with skills on how to grow their own vegetables with space not being a limiting factor,” Njani shared.
He explained that they focused on utilizing the smallest space available up to one meter square by half a meter through equipping those they serve on how they can maximize unused open rooftops, under-utilized packing areas and even balconies where possible to grow crops for household consumption so long as there is sufficient sunlight.
To promote thriving of crops planted in the vertical gardens, Njani and Nekesa had to formulate their own type of soil that allows fast growth, limited contamination thus very little pests experienced unless an individual needs normal soil for their garden set up then that’s where they avail it.
Njani openly shares that the urban vertical gardening, has enabled them to employ four youths on contract, while on the other hand it has attracted a good number of students for their attachments and internships from JKUAT.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture the average age a Kenyan farmer is 60 years thus, Njani challenged young people to shift their perception and mindset about farming and agribusiness as there are modern ways of preparing where to plant, diverse crop growing techniques which are more interesting to engage in as young people urging them to consider participating even through value addition processes, or offering their expertise to other people who are experiencing knowledge gap.
Since inception in November 2020 the two working with their team have been able to design, install, maintain and offer the urban farming techniques to 50 individuals also including six flower farms in Naivasha and three schools within Nairobi County more so offering their monitoring services totally free of charge.
Pramila Nekesa, speaking at their small farm set up in Juja area and which started operating early last year, explained to KNA that when working on vertical gardens one can incorporate diverse techniques on how the crops will be planted, irrigated as not all crop types can be grown using this kind of farming.
“Deep rooted crops such as carrots which require more root space cannot be planted on vertical gardens but on round raised kitchen gardens to enable them have enough room for bearing, common vegetables which tend to be mostly consumed that thrive well includes; Swiss chard, Sukuma wiki, lettuce, onions, Managu, curly kale with tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum though they need extra support especially in their bearing stage,” said Nekesa.
She added that with the advantages outweighing the disadvantages which include limited plant size, some pros of vertical gardens consist very low land or space requirement, provision of good agricultural nutrients and efficiency matters time, labor and water.
In efforts to produce healthy vegetables which have no effect to both the consumer and harm to the environment through chemical pollution, Nekesa pointed that practicing sustainable farming would be ideal where there is a combination of organic and conventional techniques as that will help in balancing soil acidity and alkalinity.
“For instance when planting crops one should strive to utilize both organic manure and specified fertilizer as this will bring in soil potential of hydrogen (PH) balancing reducing any potential risk to the environment while on the other side observing the pre-harvest interval(PHI) where crops or even fruits are able to break down the chemicals in their system.” Nekesa shared.
Sustainable farming improves crop yields, and largely act as a medium to conserve the environment through preventing pollution thus helping to mitigate climate change according to the ‘The Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture in Africa and Asia report (2015).
By Jackline Kidaha