Living in the city comes with many challenges among them being access to affordable, clean, fresh and sustainable vegetables for an individual or their families.
But that does not have to be the case, at least for Nairobi, residents thanks to a company, Ukulima Tech that seeks to address this challenge by enabling a willing client to transform their backyards, verandahs, and balconies into farming space.
With the revolution of agriculture in Kenya and across the globe, this farming method comes in at the right time to cater to the needs of the urban dwellers who not only worry about availability but also the high chemical residue on vegetables in the urban markets.
Ukulima (Swahili name translated to mean ‘Farming’) Tech, was established in 2015 at the time in Kisumu city, some 347 kilometers from Nairobi. But the team later realized many of their clients were from Nairobi. Hence, they relocated to the capital where they have set a demonstration garage for their clients.
In an interview with The African Exponent, Ronald Kemei one of the partners said that the company focuses on designing, fabricating, installation and maintenance of a variety of gardens at their client requests and needs.
His partners are Elizabeth Onyango, who works at the Technical University of Kenya, Hansel Wangara, an aeronautical engineer and Brenda Anne who is currently working with the company.
Kimei, the communications officer for the company noted that the upcoming start-up installs vertical farming systems, kitchen gardens, as well as garden automation for different clients.
Clients can choose from two options: an automated system or manual system for drip irrigation. For the automated system, Ukilima tech has designed so that it allows the client to irrigate the crops miles away from home. As for the standard system, a client has to turn manually on and off the water tank placed on a higher level and aided by gravity to flow through the drip pipes to crops.
There are different ways in which an urban dweller can utilize spaces on their compounds and balconies to produce vegetables for family use.
1. Tower Garden
This type of garden is suitable for residents who only have a small balcony but still wish to produce their own vegetables. Kimei says this is ideal for smaller spaces because it is elongated to ensure that a user makes use of the balcony for other purposes. Some of the ideal crops to grow in this structure include strawberries, spinach, and coriander among other leafy vegetables.
2. Hanging Gardens
Just as the name suggests, hanging gardens are dangling from a post, a rooftop or any other material that can support the piped-gardens. The system can support three multi-layer pipes which increase the number of crops for a client. They are ideal for verandahs, balconies as well as a kitchen or backyard gardens. Capsicum, pepper, coriander, leafy vegetables and herbs.
3. A-Frame Gardens
A-frame gardens are shaped like letter ‘A’, pipes are placed on each pole make the letter. Up to three pipes can be placed across depending on the size of the space or the A-shaped garden structure itself. This type can be placed in the backyard or balcony.
4. Multifarious Gardens
Depending on the space and the needs of a client, Ukulima Tech can set up a specialized structure to meet such demands. Kimei says, a standard system set up in the backyard or kitchen garden can grow all sorts of vegetables including onions, lettuce, tomatoes among others.
Irrigating the crops using a mobile phone
As a fore-mentioned, there are two ways to irrigate the crops; using the automated or manual drip irrigation.
With the automated system, Ukulima Tech has developed an application which is installed on a client’s phone. The application uses the Global System for Mobile (GSM) networks or Bluetooth to communicate with the pump which then irrigates the crops by a touch of a button on the phone menu. Once the crops are watered, a client presses ‘pump off’ to terminate the process.
Different clients have different needs, and the automated module can be customized to fit such needs like irrigating and lighting.
The system is fitted with a 50-watts solar panel which produces energy to run the system throughout the day and night.
Kimei says this kind of farming is not prone to diseases and aphids especially the ones that attack crops from the soil. According to Kimei people can also apply ground garlic, ground tomato leaves, as well as ash to apply on the leaves in case of other attacks. Moreover, the company uses and encourages clients to use organic fertilizer which is normally mixed with the water in the system.
The company which has installed 16 units of such systems since its establishment, hopes to work with construction firms in future to install systems in homes and buildings.
“We want every building that is coming up to have our systems so that even as high as the 50th floor, or whatever floor will have some green leafy vegetables,” Kimei revealed.
They also plan to work with youth and women groups in urban slum areas. They hope this will not only address the food challenges but also create employment for such groups who can sell the products in the market.
A standard structure which comes with the initial seeds (44 crops) and organic fertilizer goes for about $200. The cost of the application and the solar modular depends on the needs of a client and what one wants the system to do. According to Kimei, the application can also be used to control other technologies in the house if need be.