From dumpsite to urban farm in Kibera slum

Entrepreneur Victor Edalia at his Kibera farm. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

Grown here are vegetables of different colour and flavour from collard greens, spinach, peppers and other vegetables that sprout from hundreds of plastic cups on stacked plastic pipes. On the interview day, The Smart Harvest team finds the founder Victor Edalia, busy checking on the vegetable container by container.

Pest control strategy

"I do this routine every morning. I go around and check each of the containers to see if a pest or a disease has attacked the plant. When I do this every day, I can detect if there is a problem with the vegetable and address the issue immediately. This practice has ensured that our vegetables are rarely attacked by common pests," Edalia explains as he walks the team around the small but neat farm.

But where did this beautiful story begin? Born and bred in Kibra, Edalia, 33, is a hoods boy and knows every corner of Kibera, the gangs to avoid and boys with a vision like him.

Back in 2019, that period after college of figuring out what to do with life, passionate about community empowerment, he dedicated a significant portion of his time doing community clean-ups. But along the way he encountered a nagging problem. Aimless waste dumping.

"It was common to see people throwing trash everywhere, so every corner you turn there was a dump site in the neighbourhood. It was annoying being surrounded by trash. A team of boys and I took it upon ourselves to be collecting the piles of garbage and disposing it at this current farm which was by then the 'mother dumping site'.

"The challenge was that after collecting the trash in one corner, it started piling up in another within a week. And it was a cycle," Edalia recalls.

A hydroponic unit at the farm in Kibera. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

Originally, his idea was to sell the vegetables to locals at subsidised prices, but then in March 2020, Covid pandemic hit. Families were struggling to feed themselves because their sources of income had been cut as rules like lockdowns and social distance started taking effect.

"During that Covid period, I noticed that many families were sleeping hungry and most donations were dry foods like grains. Nobody was giving fresh vegetables which are an important aspect of a balanced diet that was key to boost immunity."

Moved with compassion, he started giving 10 vulnerable families, veggies twice a week, then slowly they rose to 25 families and because twice a week was no longer sustainable, he did once a week.

One of the beneficiaries of his benevolence Soila Amboi was quoted in one of the media interviews saying: "... we call him 'olum' meaning the blessed one. He is truly blessing us indeed."

Good news spreads fast. Within a short while, as the idea picked and thrived, so did the news of his project which now started attracting serious donors. In 2021, a nonprofit organisation got wind of the transformative idea as they were scouting for innovative small-scale urban farmers to support.

"During that time, there was a programme called Human Needs Project funded by World Food Programme to look for urban farmers who were doing impressive work in the communities. I was nominated among hundreds for funding but after some rigorous elimination stages, they settled on two projects Olympic High School and our farm. The team were impressed by my cone gardens," Edalia shares.

To take the project to the next level, Human Needs Project (HNP) connected Edalia with Hydroponics Africa, that deals in training and installation of hydroponic structures, aquaponics and greenhouses.

"Our firm installs simplified cost-effective hydroponic farming solutions that deliver value through less water usage, reduced labour and land," says the founder of Hydroponics Africa Ltd Dr Peter Chege.

Hydroponics Africa, took Edalia and his team through a three-month training where they were taught how to run and maintain the system. After the training, Hydroponics Africa team visited the farm and installed the systems which can hold more than 3,000 vegetables and helped him to plant them. With Hydroponics Africa on board, he massively increased the amount of crop yield and started running the project more professionally.

"I learn a lot on record keeping and managing daily costs to cut on wastages."

Entrepreneur Victor Edalia at his Kibera farm. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

Within a few months, his farm was a sight to behold dotted with thousands of fresh healthy vegetables.

Power of Mama Mbogas

Every good thing has a downside. With needier cases coming for food aid, with time it was evident that there need to change the business model. Then Human Needs Project, stepped in with a voucher system to ensure needy family get vegetables but the business also sustains itself and grows.

"With the help of HNP, the community mobilisers identified Mama Mbogas in strategic spots who would be selling our vegetable which was on demand. Then, HNP would identify the neediest in the community who would get a voucher then they would be sent to the Mama Mbogas who would sell to them at a subsidised price. Like for instance if the normal price for a bunch is Sh10, they would get it at Sh5," he explains.

As the idea picked up, HNP pulled out to allow the project to stand on its own. Now, Edalia has taken full charge of the project and is raring to go, despite the many odds stacked against him.

"I want to go big but I am facing financial constraints. There is demand for vegetables but I can only supply the surrounding community. My plan is to supply supermarkets and institutions, but for now, I can only mange small orders. I need partners to execute my expansion plan," he says.

His long-term plan is to train and empower youth in Kibera and beyond, to grow vegetables in hydroponic systems, then aggregate their produce and sell as a unit. Already, he is in talks with leaders of various youth groups in Kibera, Mathare and Dandora informal settlements in Nairobi.

"Urban farming is the next big thing. The population is growing and the farms are shrinking.

"Our rural farms cannot produce enough food and majority of people are in urban areas and they need food. We are the people to grow that food," he added.