News and knowhow for farmers

Karen resident sets up own backyard farm to combat failing health

urban farmer

Be­fore 2015 Vic­tor Barasa, a res­id­ence of Karen, one of the leafy sub­urbs of Nairobi just as other Niro­bi­ans al­ways had chips and chicken his daily meals un­aware of the deadly life­style dis­eases as he hardly in­cluded ve­get­ables in his diet.

A time reached when his body could not take in more of the fast foods cul­min­at­ing into him being dia­gnosed with Hy­per­ten­sion and dia­betes.

Ac­cord­ing to him, this was the worst news to have ever bom­barded him and with it came the spe­cial­ized treat­ment and man­age­ment that in­cluded fol­low­ing a strict ve­get­arian diet.

The doc­tor’s in­struc­tion lim­ited Barasa to ve­get­ables with his weekly ex­pendit­ure on greens shoot­ing to over Sh3000. The ven­ture was be­com­ing an up­hill task to Barasa.

“This was costly to me be­cause I also had other ex­pendit­ures of buy­ing the med­ic­a­tion and gen­eral main­ten­ance of my fam­ily,” said Barasa.

As the say­ing goes, ne­ces­sity is the mother of all in­ven­tions and Barasa’s case was not an ex­cep­tion.

The high bills for pur­chas­ing the ve­get­ables drove the father of two into de­vel­op­ing an in­nov­a­tion that is cham­pi­on­ing or­ganic urban farm­ing that is pro­mot­ing healthy diets among many urban dwell­ers.

RE­LATED ART­ICLE: Kenya youth set to cham­pion urban farm­ing among the young gen­er­a­tion


Barasa and his wife em­barked on a fact-find­ing mis­sion of help­ing them de­vise means of hav­ing their own sup­ply of ve­get­ables from their small back­yard garden.

Ini­tial ef­forts em­ployed by Barasa were fu­tile be­cause the use of soil me­dium lim­ited space max­im­iz­a­tion as well as being the source for many pests and dis­eases that ne­ces­sit­ated the use of chem­ic­als that he so much wanted to ex­clude be­cause they may are known for their long term neg­at­ive health im­pacts.

His re­solve fi­nally bore fruits four months later. He mixed the soil­less me­dium which com­prised of dry leaves, char­coal dust and other in­gredi­ents that will be made avail­able after the pat­ent­ing pro­cess. Ac­cord­ing to Barasa, the me­dium is highly nu­tri­tious and one does not need any fer­til­izer.  

The Soil­less me­dium is ideal for a num­ber of leafy green and fruit­ing ve­get­ables in­clud­ing kales, spin­ach, to­ma­toes, among oth­ers. The me­dium is placed in V-shaped boxes that are strapped on a metal­lic rack and ar­ranged in a ver­tic­ally.

The lay­ers of the boxes can be over 8 as long as they don’t ex­tend to over 9 feet.  De­pend­ing on the type of crops in the box a box costs about Sh2200-3000.

RE­LATED ART­ICLE: Urban farmer scal­ing up his in­come by or­ganic straw­berry farm­ing

Other ad­vant­ages

Barasa noted that the me­dium provides good aer­a­tion to the root sys­tem and there­fore this al­lows fast ma­tur­ity of the crops. In ad­di­tion, the pres­ence of the char­coal dust in the me­dium al­lows water re­ten­tion and there­fore min­im­izes ir­rig­a­tion to only twice per week de­pend­ing on the pre­vail­ing weather con­di­tions. The boxes are covered with news­pa­pers that provide the mulch­ing ef­fect help­ing in water re­ten­tion of over 70 per­cent.

“Most Pests are de­tested by re­flec­tion from the news­pa­pers as they don’t like bright col­ours and there­fore they are kept at bay.

The tech­no­logy ac­cord­ing to Barasa will also en­able green­house farm­ers to re­coup their in­vest­ments within the shortest pos­sible time.

“Most green­house farm­ers suf­fer from lim­ited space ca­pa­city which in the end im­pacts neg­at­ively on the re­turns of their in­vest­ments. This is, in the end, has made sev­eral farm­ers aban­don the struc­tures as they don’t fore­see the com­mer­cial vi­ab­il­ity. However our sys­tem al­lows max­im­iz­a­tion of space as it can al­most triple the num­ber of plants in a green­house given the up­ward plant­ing struc­ture,” ex­plained Barasa.

Com­pared to hy­dro­ponic, Barasa noted that the sys­tem is more af­ford­able and there­fore prom­ises bet­ter re­turns to farm­ers.

“Hy­dro­ponic sys­tems are far more costly and need more soph­ist­ic­ated equip­ment. For in­stance, a farmer will re­quire over Sh20,000 to set up a hy­dro­ponic sys­tem in a single square meter space while our sys­tem will cost less than Sh6000 for the same space.”

RE­LATED ART­ICLE: Urban res­id­ents can re­duce cost of liv­ing by using ver­tical bags to grow food

The suc­cess being re­gistered by the users of the sys­tems coupled with the over­whelm­ing in­quir­ies has made Barasa and his wife delve into the design­ing and set­ting up of the struc­tures on a full-time basis. They have set up nurs­er­ies of the ve­get­ables and there­fore sell off struc­tures with already grow­ing crops.

“We don’t want to bur­den the farm­ers with a lengthy pro­cess of ac­quir­ing the seeds and nurs­ery pre­par­a­tion be­cause most of our cli­ents are urban dwell­ers who have other com­mit­ments. There­fore we need to en­tice them with trendy and easy to adopt sys­tems which are ex­actly our soil­less box garden.”

In the next two months, the couple is plan­ning to in­tro­duce ready to har­vest box struc­tures. 

“We hope to de­liver to the urban farm­ers in­tact gar­dens that farm­ers can start har­vest­ing them as soon as they (sys­tems) are at their door­step,” added Barasa.

RE­LATED ART­ICLE: Urban youth ditch ties for over­alls and gum­boots

Rising Trend

Or­ganic farm­ing is pick­ing pace in the coun­try with most of the con­sumers con­scious about the sources of the pro­duce and the man­age­ment meth­ods ap­plied to them.

Ac­cord­ing to a study done by Carlo Leifert, pro­fessor of eco­lo­gical ag­ri­cul­ture at New­castle Uni­versity, found that there is a higher con­cen­tra­tion of an­ti­ox­id­ants in or­ganic crops, stand­ing at 69 per­cent com­pared to con­ven­tion­ally grown crops.

Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have linked an­ti­ox­id­ants to a re­duced risk of chronic dis­eases, in­clud­ing car­di­ovas­cu­lar and neuro­de­gen­er­at­ive dis­eases and cer­tain can­cers.

This study whole­somely sums up the ef­forts of the Bara­sas as they cham­pion a healthy na­tion cam­paign.

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