A Few Words About Kenya

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    We are super excited to be posting on Blue Virginia!

    We, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack (aka BorderJumpers), are traveling across the continent of Africa looking at innovations around alleviating hunger and poverty. We are going to bring you a weekly diary whereby we share (in less than 500 words) observations from every country we visit. This week we start with Kenya!

    Our entry begins in Maralal, Kenya, a place mostly known for its wildlife. And as we made the seven hour, bumpy trek from Nairobi-half of it on unpaved roads-we saw our fair share of water buffaloes, rhinos, impala, and giraffes. But we weren’t here to go on safari. We were here to meet with a group of pastoralists-livestock keepers who had agreed to meet with us and talk about the challenges they face.

    Although most of these people don’t have access to cable TV or even radios, they do have a good sense of the challenges their fellow livestock keepers face all over Kenya: climate change, conflict over land and water access, and a lack of support from policy makers and leaders. They also understand that the world is changing. They know that many of their children won’t live the same kind of lives that their ancestors lived for centuries. Many will choose to go to the cities, but they said if their children become “landed,” they want them to be able to maintain links to the pastoralist way of life.

    During our visit to the ‘big city,” Nairobi, we met a “self help” group of women farmers in Kibera-likely the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa with a population anywhere between 700,00 and one million-who are raising vegetables on what they call “vertical farms.” But instead of skyscrapers, these farms are in tall sacks, filled with dirt, and the women grow crops in them on different levels by poking holes in the bags and planting seeds. More than 1,000 of their neighbors are growing food in a similar way. During 2007 and 2008 when there was conflict in the slums of Nairobi and no food could come into these areas, most residents didn’t go without because so many of them were growing crops-in sacks, vacant land, or elsewhere.

    In Kerecho, Kenya we met with the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) and the Solidarity Center-an organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO that provides resources to hire organizers, conduct trainings, and offer communications and transportation support. The union, despite having more than 200,000 members in the agriculture sector, has still lost density over the last two decades. Companies are trying whatever they can to cut costs, including implementing child labor, and mechanizing the plucking industry.

    But the union, like all of the people and organizations we met in Kenya, is demonstrating its resiliency and fighting back. Despite the challenges it faces, over the past couple months it has grown, with 6,000 tea workers joining, thanks to organizing efforts supported by the Solidarity Center.

    If you enjoy our weekly diary we invite you to get involved:

    1. Comment on our posts — we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.

    2. Receive regular updates–Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.

    3. Help keep our research going–If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

    • thanks for the report. The “vertical farms” are fascinating, how much food (and what kinds) can they grow like this?