A stroll inside some of Kisumu’s urban dwellings and estates reveals a practice that is rapidly becoming common.
Behind the houses of several tenants, small gardens plush with fresh vegetables flourish under the hot-and-humid weather, waiting to be harvested.
While some residents grow their vegetables in sacks, plastic containers or used cement bags, others rely on the small spaces in their backyards to create kitchen gardens where they cultivate vegetables.
The kitchen gardens have offered a lifeline to several families pushed to the edge by the high cost of living. For these families, necessity is the mother of invention.
Unlike in the past when many residents would throng the nearby open air market to buy vegetables, the trips have since reduced as kitchen farming gains a foothold.
In Nyalenda estate, 47-year-old Eveline Akoth waters her vegetables which she has planted in the backyard of her rented house.
The vegetables in her small garden include tomatoes, kales, green onions and carrots. She says she has been relying on produce from the farm for the last one year.
“I saw my neighbours farming their kitchen garden and I decided to make one. Since then, I have been able to save a lot of money that I would spend in purchasing food at the market,” she says.
Akoth says the food she harvests from the garden is enough to feed her family from day to day.
“Everything is expensive at the moment. The price of refilling a six-kilogramme gas cylinder alone is almost Sh1,500. The prices of food and cooking oil are also high. This is what pushed me to do kitchen gardening,” says Akoth.
Vegetables are a staple food for many households in the area. Akoth says she has cut down the cost of purchasing a single tomato at Sh15 every day from the grocery store or market.
“I recall the days when we would purchase up to three tomatoes at the same price we now buy a single tomato for. It is not easy and that is why we resort to cultivating our own,” she says.
Before she ventured into kitchen gardening, Akoth was a businesswoman, but her business collapsed in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I had to convince my land lord to allow me to start my garden on the small space in my backyard. Then I later invested in the necessary farm tools, seedlings, and fences,” she says, adding that she started the investment with only Sh5,000 which she used to buy seedlings.
A few metres from Akoth’s home, Kevin Otieno also has a small garden at the balcony of his rented house. Otieno grows his vegetables in used cement bags as he does not have enough space.
Otieno says he has plans of growing even more crops in future once he is able to get a bigger space; but for now, the vegetables he grows are enough to feed his family of three.
Pharis Oginga, a resident of Kachok says kitchen gardening provides a level of food security and has other benefits like relieving the stress of constantly having to buy food supplies.
“I started my kitchen garden in 2020 after the first wave of Covid-19 hit us with a complete lockdown. This led to my family losing its source of livelihood. After I lost my job, I decided to venture into kitchen gardening instead of sitting around idle and depressed,” says Oginga.
“Cultivating the small piece of land beside my house helped to relieve my depression and also saved me money as I didn’t have to buy most groceries,” he adds.
Instead of using piped water to irrigate his plants, which can be costly, Oginga says he harvests and uses rainwater for his crops, thus saving him money.
He notes that so far, the biggest challenge faced by most kitchen gardeners is access to soil and manure, adding that most urban gardeners have to buy the products. But with regular harvests twice a week, most of these farmers have enough vegetables for their families.
“During the school holidays, I save close to Sh200 a day from buying vegetables for lunch and supper,” notes Oginga.
In addition, he earns extra income from selling any excess to his neighbours or local groceries at a wholesale price.
Caroline Ogot, a farming enthusiast who is working with a group of women to promote kitchen gardening in Kisumu’s slum areas says farming is crucial in helping families save money.
“We have a programme where we enlighten women from slum areas on agricultural alternatives, especially during these hard economic times,” says Ogot.
She says the group has already identified 400 women who are enrolled in the kitchen gardening programme in Kisumu.