That very green and fresh-looking sukuma wiki or spinach could be your lunch or supper date with sickness and death. Most people in urban towns like Nairobi and its environs have no clue where the sukuma wiki, spinach, tomatoes, sugarcane or arrowroots are grown.
Well, some are grown along polluted rivers and sewer lines and which host several health dangers.
But how do you tell farm-fresh sukuma wiki from those grown on sewer lines in areas like Ruai in Nairobi?
Well, vegetables grown along sewer lines and other polluted areas like swampy dump sites usually have a greener appearance, look more fresh, have thick leaves with big stalks.
In Nairobi, there is a vegetable garden about 100 metres from Dandora dumpsite while a small plantation of arrowroots is grown in Umoja and Kariobangi South using waste materials from a nearby manufacturer.
Ugali, Kenya’s staple diet, is best eaten with greens and they don’t come cheaper and more readily available than sukuma wiki-and most people think the greener, the better.
But for starters, sewage water contain bacteria ecoli salmonella typhi which causes typhoid fever.
Dr Steve Waluande, a city pharmacist explains that fungi grows along sewer water lines and the bacteria end up in vegetables and arrowroots grown there besides causing typhoid such foods also cause “dysentery, fungal infections, allergies, stomach upset, lung infections, asthma, cholera and food poisoning.”
Polluted rivers also habour round worms and tape worms whose mature eggs can easily pass into food crops causing anemia, parasitic infections and amoebic infections.
Such rivers include the Nairobi River and River Kibos in Kisumu which carry discharges of industrial waste which contain mercury and chemicals that are cancer-causing agents.
Waters from burst sewer pipes are also sometimes used by small-scale vegetable growers in urban centres where consumption of sukuma wiki and spinach is high. Then there are stagnant water bodies and wet garbage dump sites.
Dr Waluande explains that polluted waters are highly toxic and harmful to human health and dangers include suffering memory loss, insomnia and kidney problems.
Dr Joseph Aluoch, a medical consultant at the Nairobi Hospital pegs the rising cancer cases in Kenya to consumption of foods which contain chemicals from industrial wastewaters with Nairobi River among the most dangerous as its waters contain mercury, heavy metals and lead.
“This is the water some street children drink. This is the water some unscrupulous people use to grow sugarcane, vegetables and arrowroots, basically these people are growing and selling death to unsuspecting customers, observes Dr Aluoch adding that “we usually prescribe and dispen drugs for these conditions, which are basically foodborne diseases.”
“I usually advise people to eat vegetables not grown using irrigated fresh waters from rivers, tap water and lakes,” says Dr Paul Saoke, a general medical practitioner who concurs with Dr Aluoch that the rising cases of food-borne diseases are caused by the type of foodstuff we consume.
In Kisumu and Homa Bay counties, small scale vegetable farmers grow sukuma wiki using polluted waters from factories and firms that discharge wastes directly into Lake Victoria and Jagongo Obara, chair of the Nyanza Economic Development Caucus advises the health inspectors and cops to arrest ‘waste water farmers’ as “we are a sick society and have health problems due to the unclean foods we eat.”
Faith Rotich, a nutrition adviser at Nairobi Hospital advises people to consume more traditional vegetables while observing the three cardinal rule of feeding: moderation, variety and balance.