Why does Nairobi County need a ministry of Agriculture?
County governments derive their mandate from Schedule 4 of the new constitution. Pursuant to these provisions, Agriculture is a devolved function and Nairobi County is no exception because it is a county like any other. The ministry is performing functions that were previously performed by the defunct provincial directorate of Agriculture. Much as Nairobians associate the capital with KICC, Hilton Hotel and other high rise buildings, it is important to know that agriculture has been thriving in the city over ages. This agriculture is mainly practised by the urban poor for survival or what is called urban resilience. This category of people practice this mode of agriculture to survive. This because these households spend more money on food There have been issues surrounding the kind of agriculture practised in Nairobi but the county government is ready and determined to improve and make it modern and ecosystem that will guarantee food security in the households, contribute income stability and poverty alleviation.
What is the mission of your ministry?
The mission of this county is as far as agriculture is concerned is no different from the parent ministry at the national level. You know Agriculture is one of the sectors that have been identified in the realisation of Vision 2030. We are looking at modern agriculture that will ensure Nairobi food security, employment and economic empowerment. Through this we expect to improve the livelihoods of the people of Nairobi by promoting competitive farming and as a business. We plan to engage appropriate policies to support services and sustainable national resources management.
This is an ambitious plan but does Nairobi have the land to practice this kind of agriculture?
This will be done under an integrated spatial plan developed for Urban and Peri urban areas of the county. There is lot of land in Karen, Njiru, Utawala, Kasarani, Ruai and Dagorretti and some parts of Lang’ata. Most people who practise agriculture are in the slums and operate small holder pieces of land on river banks, below the power lines and even along the railway line. These small holders oftentimes operate land that does not belong to them. All we want is to offer support to these farmers and ensure the agriculture they practise is not only modern, but is in acceptable standards for human consumption.
Who are these farmers?
There are many farming families in Nairobi City County. We do not have the exact number but we estimate they range from between 190,000 to 200,000 farming families spread all over Nairobi. We have the big farmers with large tracts of land, cooperative groups and individuals and we are working with them to ensure our dream is realised. They are within our jurisdiction and we attend to all of them. These farmers need to get services from the county government. They are supposed to benefit from extension services and we have done our best in reaching out to them. Agriculture is devolved and we deal with these farmers through demonstration and field visits.
What crops are you looking at?
We are looking at high value crops like tomatoes, kales, cabbages, strawberry and mushrooms. Some farmers are growing traditions foods like managu, carrots, capsicum. We are also thinking of how to ensure that we construct as many fishing ponds as possible.
There is perception that Nairobi agriculture is dirty. People link these crops to irrigation through a sewer. Comment.
Food safety is ordinarily a national government function. I want to say that scientific studies have shown that even food from rural villages is not as safe as many people think. The study conducted by the Department of Geography and Environmental studies at the University of Nairobi show that some of the foods shipped in Nairobi from rural Kenya are more contaminated than whatever is produced in Nairobi. We are aware of claims that Nairobi crops are irrigated with waste water from the sewerage and that they are contaminated with dangerous metals. I want to convince Nairobians the county of Nairobi is well aware of these concerns. However, not all crops in Nairobi are grown on sewer lines or river banks. There are people in this city who are practising safe agriculture in their backyards. Questions surrounding the safety of food grown in Nairobi are informed by propaganda. Not all these food is grown on river banks or sewer lines. There are Nairobians who practice safe agriculture in their backyards.
We have serious farmers in Karen, Njiru and Ruai and other peri-urban areas that are practicing clean farming. And this is the group we are working with. More importantly is that we shall soon launch a major campaign targeting those people you consider are irrigating their fields with sewer water. While we cannot eliminate them completely, we can make their agriculture safer for the benefit of the people of Nairobi. The campaign will involve availing water to these farmers to ensure that their crops are properly irrigated to the satisfaction of people of Nairobi.
Going forward, the county government is giving out micro gardens to individuals who are serious about urban agriculture. We have so far issued 385 of such gardens to farming families. Basically, this are small sack-like gardens that gives people with interest to carry of farming. They are very small. You can put them in your backyard or suspend them in your balcony. The lifeline of such micro-gardens is 24 months and the produce can feed the family of eight for the same period. This is the way to go if Nairobi agriculture is to go places in the era when the land as a resource is scarce, very scarce. It is also a better alternative that sewer lines and river banks that have proved scary to residents. We have already distributed the gardens to families and we are in the process of up-scaling the same to bring in more families as the sewer lines, railway corridors give us contaminated food.
What about livestock? Which ones are you targeting and where is the land?
When we discovered that urban agriculture is thriving we decided to develop a policy to incorporate livestock as part of urban resilience. The overall objective is to promote sustainable agriculture sector development to improve income, food security, employment and reduce poverty. Through this we encourage promotion of agriculture as an activity of economy and regulation at the same time. But as you know policy has to be anchored in legislation and that is why we are working on the law for the same. The Nairobi County Urban Agriculture and Peri-Urban Agriculture Promotion Regulation Bill is currently under draft and could be enacted by the end of the year.
But Nairobians know that keeping livestock in the city is outlawed?
That was under the city by laws which have since been repealed by the County Governments Act.
What is the potential of Nairobi agricultural and livestock production?
For livestock we conserve estimates places the value of livestock and its products to over sh10 billion and that involves goats, milk, eggs and cows. The potential for dairy farming stands at Sh300,000, and sh700,000 for poultry biggest it’s the highest in terms of consumption. Fish and its products are not so common in the market and it has become a potential target as part of the strategy to grow the sector. In 2013 the value in crops stood at Sh139 million.
What is your ministry doing to improve urban agriculture?
Our objective now is to improve on what we are doing. We need more micro-gardens. Our target is to distribute 100 of such gardens to Nairobi’s 17 sub county in the 2014/15 financial estimates. We have spent Sh5.1 million in 17 greenhouses, one each in every sub county, that we used for demonstrations to train farmers during field days. We have now set aside sh40 million to develop fish ponds in Nairobi, another Sh20 million for greenhouses. We also intent to improve our veterinary department, especially in so far as dog and cat vaccination, and even poultry vaccinations. We want to scale up and refurbish our dog pound to make it a clinic with international standards so as to license dogs and take custody of pets.
Where do you hope this ministry at the end of five years…
I expect Nairobi to be the leading agent of food security for all, agriculture to be a major employer through employment creation and poverty reduction.