In Westlands, an upper-middle class neighborhood in Nairobi, most residents live behind gates, protecting them from some of the crime that has earned the city the nickname Nairobbery. Behind one of these gates, however, is not a family home, but the Mazingira Institute. Mazingira, which means environment in Swahili, was started in 1978 by Diana Lee-Smith and Davinder Lamba.
Over the last three decades, Mazingira has worked to create awareness about climate change, human rights, and urban agriculture, while also training communities to learn better skills to increase income generation and well-being.
When we met them at Mazingira on Wednesday, they had brought together a group of three agricultural entrepreneurs who received training from Mazingira and Nairobi and Environs Food Security, Agriculture, and Livestock Forum (NEFSALF), a consortium of farmers, policy makers, veterinarians, researchers, and national and international agriculture research institutions, including Urban Harvest and the International Livestock Research Institute. By “tapping into the urban fringe,” says Diana Lee-Smith, NEFSALF is able to help farmers and producers learn not only better farming and production practices, but also add value to their products.
Since NEFSALF first began in 2004, the view of urban agriculture in Nairobi has begun to change. Although at least 30 percent of the Nairobi’s population is raising food in some way, the City Council has failed to realize its importance for urban food security (although a draft policy recognizing urban agriculture is awaiting signature.)
Before NEFSALF began, “farmers didn’t have a voice,” says Kuria Gathuru, a trainer and researcher with Mazingira. Now they do and the City Council is listening. Instead of tearing out garden plots or preventing farmers from raising livestock within the city, the Council has grown more lenient because they better understand what farmers are doing—and its benefits.
And the farmers feel more empowered. NEFSALF is made up of 50 farmers associations, with more than 700 farmers—farmers who are better trained and are sharing their skills with their neighbors, whether it’s making briquettes out of organic waste to replace charcoal or making value-added products out of groundnuts (a peanut-like nut) or bananas. We’ll profile the stories of the farmers we met at Mazingira over the next few days.