A new Permaculture Project is growing up in Kisumu City in West Kenya.
By Steven Odhiambo
We are the first ones in the city to grow vegetables in containers and recycled cement bags! Our wish is to have a small piece of land, though.
Tunaweza is a Swahili word that means “we are able or we can do it“.
We are young people from Kenya living in the city of Kisumu, and due to the experience, knowledge and the need of permaculture, we managed to come up with our own project. We realized that living in the city is not much interesting if someone does not have a good job or any sources of income. We are living in an economy that is too high to match our income. Almost 80 % of the youths and women lack jobs in Kisumu City so their only option is to live from hand to mouth.
During July 2020 we decided to start up a small scale model of a permaculture project, which we refer as city permaculture, to show how to provide simple solutions in sustainable living, better food of high nutrition value, medicinal and economic value, diet diversity, transfer of skills and knowledge, empowerment, educational and learning tools, and also reduction of land degradation.
Our mission is to work with communities and people living under poor conditions and struggle every day to feed themselves and their families. We want to give knowledge, skills, and practice in integrated sustainable agriculture through social interaction and workshops following permaculture design approach and hopefully we all succeed to build up a sustainable life.
Before we started Tunaweza Permaculture Project, most of us were in Vijana Wetu Permaculture Project. Since we met with our Danish friends in 2011, we were so much involved in youth´s development programs such as skills and talents, businesses venture and schooling. Three years ago, we got introduced into permaculture work by Tove Bang, friend and founder of Vijana Wetu Youth Project.
Together we learned about using ecological principles and systems thinking to improve relations between people and the planet through permaculture work and education.
Permaculture ideology caught our attention and most of us realized that it could improve our living standards in the most sustainable way and giving back to the Mother Nature.
We got deeply involved in working with the community through permaculture introduction workshops, soil erosion control and soil building workshops, doing food forest, gardening practice, building home energy conservation ovens through the help of Permaculture tutors Evans Odula and professor Omwoma from Badilisha Permaculture Project in Rusinga Kenya, home solar energy use from Mkopa solar company, Kenya and also basket weaving.
´Introduction to permaculture´ workshop
Vijana Wetu Permaculture ground work
In addition, we also identified that as we do our own natural food, we could also learn about natural medicine. We managed to visit one of the experienced experts in our region called Pastor George from REEP Kenya in the village of Kajulu in Kisumu, Kenya. We planned for many trips of learning sessions and also organized a workshop, which became so successful, besides that we also managed to send two of our youths to take a certificate course by ANAMED (Action for Natural Medicine in the tropics).
Through training, facilitation, demonstration gardens, role modeling, and counseling for sustainable living women and youths in rural areas of Asembo have empowered themselves by establishing their own kitchen gardens, made their own energy saving ovens/jiko, installed home solar systems, and making and selling baskets.These ventures have made trained women and youths to be self-reliant and accomplish what they could not have done if they were not involved in permaculture activities.
Tunaweza Permaculture Project – Team members
Our team members of the Tunaweza Permaculture Project are young strong youths, who can still work by their hands. They are skilled and multitalented in different areas.
We have Zedee, who is a student in Kisumu polytechnic, studying civil engineering and he has so much knowledge and interest in medicinal plants.
He is head of medicinal plants department in Tunaweza Permaculture Project.
We have Steve, who is a travel agent, but now focused to develop Tunaweza Permaculture Project, and he also wants to be a permaculture PDC teacher.
He is curently Tunaweza Permaculture Project operation manager.
We then have Vicky Boy, who is a bussines man, hairdresser, actor and a musician. He is incharge of the social welfare and entertainment department in the project.
Lately we have Nancy Wereh, who is a business lady and would wish to be a nurse if she gets the oportunity to join a nursing school. She is the woman represantative in the project and now she has started up with her own women group for developments.
To do a difference in the city – it´s a challenge!
It´s quite different to work in the city, and one of the biggest challenges we face currently is that it´s too expensive to own or to rent a parcel of land to really build up a demonstration farm. Recently we had a tough situation to even fence a very small piece of land, which is necessary because of loose cattle and chicken. We were offered the land by the landlady to do our demonstration garden. The problem was due to the fact that there were so many complaints laid down that the land belongs to the Estate Cooperation Society. It was meant for parking, thus the authority to do so from the landlady did not matter. This really disorganized our plans, but that’s not where we opted to get stuck.
Sometimes the biggest obstacles are to take the first steps, and we know that believing in ourselves, that ´we can do it´ as our project name suggests, is our biggest motivation. One of the important things, permaculture has taught us, is to work with the little available resources, and also to find solutions out of our problems. Our simple answer has been to use our own back yard and balcony garden and still make a difference.
In Tunaweza City Permaculture Project, 1st face, we have decided to promote healthy living by designing a kitchen vegetable garden. This is going to act as a model farm for demonstration to show city dwellers to replicate the same idea.
Our main reason for this 1st face project is to:
-promote healthy eating of natural vegetables, fruits and herbs from one´s own garden. 98 % of the population living in Kisumu are either buying greens from the groceries, supermarkets or open air markets. Most of these products are chemically grown and packed thus leads to so many people eating unhealthy foods which causes health problems.
– cheap and readily available food-kitchen gardens will help city dwellers to save so much money as they get their vegetables easily from their doorstep or balconies.
– clean air circulation around city houses. Cities are full of companies generating much waste products which sometimes are burned in open air thus producing much of air pollution and CO2. This creates unhealthy air circulation in the horizon that leads to health problems, so we want to encourage the city dwellers to do more gardens, because the fact remains that the greener the surrounding the fresher the air.
– practicing garden will also help the city dwellers to stay grounded to the nature.
– aesthetic matter- plants makes your home more green and beautiful thus makes you feel peaceful and more relaxed.
Through research we found out that there are those vegetables that are mostly consumed among the city dwellers like kales, spinach, carrots, cucumber, pepper, chili and cabbage, and our wider plan is to grow various varieties of indigenous vegetables too that serves as food and at the same time medicinal plants.
Bellow is the category list that we want to grow:
-Bell peppers – spinach -onions -turmeric -kales -tomatoes -cucumber -carrots -chili -potatoes -turmeric -rosemary -cabbage -ginger -broccoli -water melon – rue -thyme -basil -chives -lemon grass -passion fruit
Container gardening – the practice of growing plants in portable objects like carry bags and pots of different sizes to grow plants.
Vertical gardening – maximizing the space by growing plants upwards using support systems like walls, fences, trellis and build structures.
Four main reasons for the two layout methods
– we have limited space.
– our budget is limited, and we can´t afford the budget for much equipments.
– prevent waste, due to the fact that we live in a rented house.
– we can increase accessibility by bringing the plants off the ground for watering, manuring and even harvesting.
Steve, Zedee and Nancy at the land claimed to be a parking space
House verandah space for gardening – before starting up Backyard
Our vegetables a few weeks after transplant
First harvesting stage
1st face obstacles
Doing city permaculture or urban gardens can be an amazing experience but still there are problems that as a famer you will have to tackle.
– Permits – if your garden is in the city you need permit for tilling the land, putting up a fence or just putting your plant containers in a rented space to avoid problems with the landlords or neighbors.
– Human elements – it’s a good idea to talk to your neighbors before putting up a front yard or backyard garden and don’t assume that they will always be helpful and supportive of the efforts you make .They might be the ones that will first interfere with your project as they allow kids or their animals (chicken) to run into your garden.
– Sun protection – we are so much subjected to sunscald and radiant heat due to plenty concrete floor of the verandah and the big house. When the surfaces heat of through the day then water in the containers dry up so fast thus affecting the plants.
– Contaminated soil – soil in the city is too contaminated and most of the time we have been pricked by needles and also find so much plastic waste.
– Water supply – we realized that our water bill has risen to ksh 3,500 from the normal ksh 1300, and this is too expensive and we wish to use rain water if perhaps we shall install rain water gutters and pipe to a small water tank .
1st face results
For us it is very useful to understand why food gardens succeed, and why it might fail. It means we can be more intelligent about planning and rolling out other similar projects in future.
From the little success we achieve by doing our first face, we would love to encourage people to do city permaculture and to know how to design home gardens, because we have just started to harvest healthy fresh produce. We believe that a family of four can be fed all-year round of a piece of soil the size of a door, if done right with the right resources.
We have learned that putting a little investment in the right seeds and work process can lead to more yield that can enable us to earn some extra cash if we sell the produce hence we will have a sense of purpose and pride too.
We already started to learn much in gardening skills, composting and soil preparation, as well as the value of eating our own harvest.
In our next face we will love to incorporate much of medicinal plants and mix different varieties of vegetables, as we elaborate the steps of soil building and the use of container and vertical gardening.