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HUMAN HEALTH VERSUS SUSTAINABLE FARMING (KALES FROM THE SEWERS)
The future of food is an important global issue. The way the food is produced has serious impacts on food security, the future of rural/urban communities, public health, the environment and global food security. The Rift Valley Fever (a contagious animal disease) has terrified Kenyans so much, especially in Nairobi city that meat has gone missing from many household dining tables almost running butcheries out of business. This sad situation has provided an opportunity to farmers, Recently commercial and consumer trends show an increase in sustainable vegetable production ventures especially kales. There has been an increased demand of vegetables (Kales) in Nairobi. The increased demand cannot be satisfactorily met by the Kale (Sukuma wiki) supplies from farmers practicing agriculture near Nairobi. Unimproved and bad roads undermine the vegetable farmers reaching the Nairobi market destinations. An interesting trend has been the urge of many women and youths to venture in growing kales –a money maker at the moment. Sukuma wiki is a word coined from Kiswahili language meaning the push of the week'' True to its name, kale is currently the push of the week in many households.
Current government legislations forbid farming within the city, but farmer's disregard this rule of the law and farm in subdivided, smaller and uneconomical units of land. They make use of any small tracts of under-utilized fertile lands even along the roads/ road reserves, in the city estates. In a sense what is happening is, there are many small hold farmers within some city estates resorting to farming due to the demand opportunity. Most of these farmers' practices underscore how importantly the food is needed, by using cultivation methods that are sensitive to the overall good health and well being of consumers. In my case study I visited mama wanjiku who has a small piece of land adjacent to other many farmers; where she grows sukuma wiki (kales). The proceeds from the sale of her produce help her in feeding her three daughters and two sons. Being a single mother living in the city, she works tirelessly all day in her small farm. Her farm lies next to Naivasha road-not far from ILRI (a livestock and agricultural research centre) A stream passes through the vegetable farms. The waters of this stream are contaminated by effluent discharged by the burst sewers. It is this water that mama wanjiku and other farmers use to irrigate their vegetables. These vegetables look very green and lush. While reckoning the fact that artificial fertilizers/herbicides and insecticides are damaging pollutants and contrary to this, reasonable amounts of animal manure can enrich the soil. How do we reconcile the two The question is: Can human excreta be harmful to human if used in producing food?
Liquid slurry emanating from open sewers has lots of nitrogen and phosphate that may be in a way harmful or lead to food poisoning. Investigations show that it's not only Mama Wanjiku but most of the vegetable farmers within Nairobi irrigate their farms using open sewers liquid slurry. The reason is that they can't afford piping clean water into their farms to use for irrigation. Also, mama wanjiku and other farmers are oblivious of the damages they are exposing consumers to by locating their farms next to busy roads.Vehicles that pass by these roads emit billows of smoke loaded with lead. The contaminants end up on the crops leaves. The contaminated leaves end up on the consumers plates. Are these Agricultural practices ground swell of common sense agricultural approach or a major public health problem?
In my point of view, for the Government to fulfil it's objective of improved economic performance and enhanced social welfare, it should ensure that the important sectors of the economy as Agriculture are well managed and encourage youths and women into practising sustainable agriculture even within the cities and Towns. But sensitization even by Organisations like "ILRI"( which is not miles away from Mama Wanjiku's small hold farm) are like wise necessary. The Agricultural arm of the Gorvernment and agricultural based organisations should come in to sensitizing and demonstrating to farmers proper farming methods, weed control, and also discourage use of improper treated human waste or factory waste water for irrigation. Farmers should be aware that this causes environmental and social problems. Advocacy and empowerment into irrigation using clean water is necessary as effluent contains pathogenic bacteria, giardia, amoeba, chemical carcinogens and toxins.
My big question here as a one major primary consumer of vegetables is: Is Mama wanjiku's and the like's ways of producing vegetable foods helping or hurting consumers overall good health and well being?
KENNEDY .O. OWINO ARTIST,ENTERTAINER, SOCIAL WORKER, SOCIAL CHANGE ACTIVIST. NAFSI AFRIKA ACROBATS BOX 21255 – 00505, NAIROBI, KENYA TEL: 254 .2. 576173 CELL: 254 723 568 251, EMAIL: [email protected] WEbsite: www.nafsiafriacrobats.org