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Urban agriculture, social capital, and food security in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya

Abstract

Much of the developing world, including Kenya, is rapidly urbanizing. Rising food and fuel prices in recent years have put the food security of the urban poor in a precarious position. In cities worldwide, urban agriculture helps some poor people gain access to food, but urban agriculture is less common in densely populated slums that lack space. In the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya, households have recently begun a new form of urban agriculture called sack gardening in which vegetables such as kale and Swiss chard are planted into large sacks filled with topsoil. This paper examines relationships among sack gardening, social capital, and food security in Kibera. We used a mixed methods approach, combining qualitative interviews with a household survey, as well as focus group discussions with both farmers and non-farmers. We present evidence that sack gardening increases social capital, especially for those households that undertake sack gardening in groups. We also find that sack gardening in the Kibera slums has a positive impact on household food security by improving household dietary diversity and by reducing the need to resort to painful coping mechanisms that are used during food shortages.

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Notes

  1. Taylor and Goodfellow (2009, p. 2) define ‘food poor’ as the “inability to meet all nutritional needs due to expenditure on other basic non-food essentials” and ‘hardcore poor’ as “households that would not meet their minimum food requirements even if they allocated all their income on food”

  2. In Kenya, Swiss chard is commonly referred to as spinach.

  3. Soil for sacks is collected from any available open spaces, such as open fields, former dumpsites, or next to the railroad. Farmers sometimes mix soil with manure before filling the sacks with the soil, poured around a central column of stones to improve filtration.

  4. At the time of fieldwork in 2010–2011, the exchange rate was approximately 1 US dollar to 80 Kenyan shillings.

  5. Findings regarding exposure to environmental risk will be published elsewhere.

  6. Neighbor was self-defined by the respondent, but generally referred to people living in the same housing block or immediate vicinity.

  7. Because most of the respondents are casual laborers and do not have a fixed monthly salary, they were asked about their approximate monthly household income, and their responses were coded based on categories of fixed income ranges.

  8. Non-farmers were asked only about their current relationship with their neighbors, so it was not possible to compare individual farmers with non-farmers in this situation.

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Acknowledgments

This research was conducted using support from NSF award BCS-1030325 as well as the Society of Women Geographers Pruitt Dissertation Research Fellowship. We would like to express our sincere thanks to the households that participated in this research project. We are also immensely grateful to Dennis Mwaniki, Catherine Wangui, George Aloo, Joel Boboti, Baraka Mwau, Jack Odero, and Jamie Clearfield who contributed to this project in a variety of ways. The work on this manuscript by WinklerPrins was supported by the National Science Foundation, while working at the Foundation. Any opinion, finding, conclusion, or recommendation expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Courtney M. Gallaher.

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Gallaher, C.M., Kerr, J.M., Njenga, M. et al. Urban agriculture, social capital, and food security in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Agric Hum Values 30, 389–404 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-013-9425-y

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Keywords

  • Urban agriculture
  • Food security
  • Dietary diversity
  • Social capital
  • Kibera slums
  • Kenya