Kenya has one of the highest population growth rates in the world. The present population is about 40 million, which is expected to double in the coming 15 to 20 years. Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is a city with a population of about 3 million inhabitants. It is estimated that more than 60% of this population lives in slum areas (Pascal & Mwende 2009). Like elsewhere in Africa, Nairobi’s urban population growth rate is extremely high: between 1980 and 2010, Nairobi’s population grew with about 260% (compared to 160% for the whole of Kenya) (Republic of Kenya 2010). Besides being a capital city, Nairobi serves as one of Kenya’s eight provinces. It covers an area of about 700 km2, and contains many open spaces in which agriculture is being undertaken – formally or informally. Agricultural conditions are quite favourable in Nairobi: the city lies at an altitude of between 1,600 and 1,800 m above sea level, the mean annual rainfall ranges from about 800 to about 1,050 mm, depending on altitude (Ng’ang’a 1992) and the mean annual temperature is 17oC (Situma 1992).

The growth of urban agriculture since the late 1970s is largely understood as a response to escalating poverty and rising food prices or shortages (Foeken 2006). For example, urban poverty in Nairobi in the mid-1970s was negligible: only 2.9% of the households in Nairobi lived below the poverty line (Collier & Lal 1986). In the 1980s and 1990s, however, the situation changed drastically, due to three, interrelated, circumstances: (1) rapid population growth as a result of both high natural increase and accelerated rural-urban migration; (2) the on-going economic recession: economic growth declined steeply since 1980; and (3) the effects of structural adjustment policies, such as a reduction of government spending, increased taxation, currency devaluation, increasing real producer prices for agriculture, etc., all measures making life far more expensive for Kenyans and for the poor in particular. The result is that vulnerable groups like the urban poor have become more and more marginalised (KCO 1992). Partly as a result of this, many people turned to urban farming, “to subsidise their income” (Foeken 2006).

In the mid-1980s, 20% of the Nairobi households were growing crops within the city limits (Lee-Smith et al. 1987). Moreover, 7% appeared to keep livestock within the city. Although urban farming was carried out by households across all socio-economic strata, poor(er) households tended to be more engaged with urban agriculture. This trend has been confirmed by a study of the slum area of Korogocho conducted in 1994: within Korogocho, 30% of households were classified as urban farmers (Mwangi & Foeken 1996).
Roughly, four farming systems can be distinguished in Nairobi:

  1. Small-scale subsistence crop cultivation. This is by far the dominant type of farming. Plots are usually small, on which a wide variety of crops are cultivated (with maize, beans and kales being the most common ones). The labour needed is mainly done by women, using very simple cultivation methods. Inputs like chemicals and irrigation are quite rare.
  2. Small-scale livestock production. This is often combined with the first type. Livestock is a quite common sight, (poultry in particular), especially in the open spaces in the outskirts of the city (Freeman 1991; Lee-Smith & Memon 1994). Practices like dipping, spraying, vaccinating and using veterinary drugs are not very common (Mwangi & Foeken 2000).
  3. Small-scale market-oriented crop cultivation. Despite its potential in terms of food, employment and income, small-scale crop production entirely for commercial purposes is a rare phenomenon in Nairobi. Examples are the cultivation of seedlings and of ornamental plants.
  4. Large-scale commercial farming. This can be found in the south-western part of the city and is a ‘remnant’ from the colonial period. It concerns for instance irrigated vegetable fields, battery hen houses and grade dairy cattle.

Nairobi serves as an excellent case study for the purposes of the FOODMETRES project because in many respects, it offers an extreme view, from the perspective of the other (European) case studies. In the last decade enormous steps have been made in terms of governance aspects of urban agriculture. The Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture has a department for urban agriculture and that a policy on urban and peri-urban agriculture and livestock is underway (Republic of Kenya 2009). In Nairobi, the contribution of city farmers in the way of kale (popularly known as sukuma wiki), tomatoes, beans, cowpeas, maize, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, arrowroots and bananas amongst many others, makes a profound contribution to urban food consumption.
In Nairobi alone, it is estimated that urban farmers contribute 50,000 bags of maize and 15,000 bags of beans annually and up to a quarter million chickens, about 45,000 goats and sheep, and 42 million liters of milk. This, in economic terms, means that milk alone generates up to Kshs. 800 million annually if priced at 20 Kshs. per liter. Most of it reaches the urban poor as either food or income. In 1998 there were 24,000 dairy cattle in Nairobi, worth roughly one billion shillings. In Kasarani Division, about 180,000 trays of eggs were produced, worth Kshs. 27 million. In the same year 110,000 kilograms of sukuma wiki were grown in Dagoretti, 240,000 kilograms in Langata and 260,000 kilograms in Westlands (Agaya 2004).

In many respects, thus, European cities stand to learn from a more developed and institutionalized culture of urban agriculture in Nairobi than in the European cases. On the other hand, the Kenyan urban agricultural sector could be developed especially in terms of higher productivity, reduction of transportation costs, reduction of post-harvest loss, market access, training and education, ‘modern’ inputs, etc. In this sense, the European cases may be of benefit.
In this case study we aim to

  • Analyse the impact on urban agriculture of rapid urban growth.
  • Analyse the impact on food supply chains of rising food prices and food insecurity in the region more generally.
  • Study the relationship between urban agriculture and changing food consumption patterns and changing marketing strategies (‘supermarketisation’).
  • Identify the ways forward for urban agriculture in Nairobi.

With reference to urban farming, Nairobi has a number of actors in the food-supply and marketing chain. Individual and household-level farmers are scattered in many parts of the city. A number NGOs and CBOs which operate in Nairobi’s slum areas have urban farming as part of their livelihood and poverty eradication components. Notable NGOs in this sub-sector include Mazingira Institute ( and Urban Harvest ( Mazingira, which means environment in Swahili, was started in 1978. Over the last three decades, Mazingira has worked to create awareness about climate change, human rights, and urban agriculture, while also training communities to learn better skills to increase income generation and well-being. At the city-level, Nairobi and Environs Food Security, Agriculture and Livestock Forum (NEFSALF) is a consortium of farmers, policy makers, veterinarians, researchers and national and international agriculture research institutions. NEFSALF is made up of 50 farmers associations, with more than 700 farmers – which can be used as case studies.
The government is also a major stakeholder. Nairobi has agricultural extension officers who provide technical assistance, largely to the peri-urban farmers. In recognition of the importance of urban and peri-urban agriculture with regard to food security, employment creation, and poverty alleviation, the Government of Kenya has developed the National Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture and Livestock Draft Policy of 2010 in order to guide, spur further growth and sustain the development of the sub-sector.

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