Behind the high walls and ornate gates in posh estates lies much more than mansions nestling against lush lawns and leafy drives. A substantial acreage lies under farms.
Besides an eye for beauty and a taste for the fine things in life, those who live on the ornate properties have learnt to professionally to utilise the limited spaces to run farms which produce enough to supply to supermarkets or simply to share with family and friends.
These are farmers who hold the urban food security in their hands. From floating farms, hanging roof gardens to growing produce in sacks and greenhouses these urban farms are thriving and turning a profit even when making money is not their driving force.
For some they were born into the business while others settled into it as a money making venture or side job or simply a hobby they engage in to keep themselves busy or use their knowledge and skills productively in their free time.
One such farmer is Peter Oywaya, an engineer by profession, who keeps turkeys in his Rongai farm. He says he started keeping the birds by default.
One Saturday morning he woke up to receive three live turkeys, sent over to his home in Satellite, by his wife’s friends.
His wife had seen them at her friend’s home and had fallen in love with them, so she asked for some, which were sent to her as a gift that Saturday morning, four months after she had asked for them.
When they arrived, however, neither Mr Oywaya nor his wife knew what to do with the birds.
He opted to take the turkeys to his farm in Rongai, where he left them. It was only after they laid their first eggs that he realised that they would be beneficial after all. With several trials and failures, he finally learnt how to capitalise on Turkey farming.
Today, he has 300 birds from the initial three he started with. His is a pure heritage breed since he has never bought additional birds. Since going commercial about two years ago he has sold over 500 birds.
He also sells eggs and makes jewellery from the by-products. A kilo of Turkey meat goes for about Sh600, and a bird can weigh about 13 kilogrammes. One egg costs Sh60.
Mr Oywaya now hopes to transform the eating habits of Kenyans and get them to also consider turkey as a day-to-day part of their menu and not something to be considered only during the festive season.
A few kilometres away from his farm, on the way to Karen, Rose Mungai grows various organic crops on her piece of land. And after harvesting them, she can be found at the Talisman organic market held every Saturday in the neighbourhood of Karen.
Rose, who is well travelled and has lived in South Africa for years, likes farming and engaged in it as a pastime.
However, in 2004, she decided to farm professionally with the help of the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (Koan), an NGO that mainly deals with farming groups.
Before joining Koan, Ms Mungai was in a group of organic farmers from Ngong called NADOPA. Koan helped them with market access and this is how they came to Rusty Nail and later moved to Talisman, which now hosts the weekly Organic Market.
Ms Mungai used to own six acres of land but sold half. On the remaining three acres, she practices mixed farming, has her home and an orphanage that houses 30 children under her care.
The house and the children’s home take up an acre, leaving her with two for her farming. On this space, she has 200 macadamia trees. She also grows green nuts a kilo of which she sells at Sh200.
But you will also fine pumpkin vines, bean and maize stalks, leek onions, Irish potatoes, Jatropha, sunflower, sweet bananas and a variety of vegetables. Did we say she also keeps dairy cows, rabbits and chicken?
Though she has 100 rabbits, she says she has nowhere to sell the meat, a fact that disappoints her because she had been led to believe that the market was ready and waiting.
She is not alone, though. Urban farmers have often had difficulties in finding ready market for their products.
In its first draft policy on national urban and peri-urban agriculture and livestock, 2010, the Ministry of Agriculture is cognisant that marketing is a challenge for the farmers and attributes this to few and weak marketing organisations.
But marketing is not the only challenge that urban farmers have to contend with.
Andrew Waweru, 54, supplies his neighbours with fresh milk and vegetables from his farm but he has, in turn, had to contend with complaints from them about the noise and smells coming from his Miare Farm in Kasarani.
As a retiree, his one-and-three quarter acre farm is the source of his livelihood and has been seen as a good example of urban farming having been recognized by the government on several occasions.
“The neighbours don’t often favour the idea,” says Andrew who rears 30 dairy cows but has reserved space for 30 more he plans to add. He also has three green houses for vegetables, each measuring 30 by eight metres. Besides, he also grows bananas, Napier grass and keeps 200 chickens.
Mr Waweru earns a handsome return from his farm every month and his cows produce about 240 litres of milk a day.
For Teddy Kinyanjui, 29, who has a charcoal oven and a heap of organic manure decomposing at the edge of his compound on Ngecha Road, Spring Valley, has found City Council of Nairobi askaris at his gate a couple of times.
He says they show up every time he fells one of his trees for timber, demanding a fee. The Council charges Sh1,000 for every tree cut.
On his two acre farm he has planted 3, 000 trees as a sustainable project for his efficient charcoal cook-stoves project. He also sells tree seedlings and has two beehives for pollination in his kitchen garden.
Teddy was born into the business which his father, the later Maxwell Kinyanjui, started in 1984. The senior Kinyanjui is famed for the ceramic jikos.
Urban farming has in the recent past become popular with farmers in the city. Though there are no official figures about their numbers, what they produce and how much they generate, there are certainly a good number of them in diverse neighbourhoods, from Karen to Kitisuru.
The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 70 per cent of the city’s fresh produce supplies come from urban and peri-urban farms.
However, controversy continues to dog the concept especially because some of the farmers practice their trade near rivers, raising concerns about the environment and about waste disposal.
Faced with land scarcity and rising population pressure in the city, individuals taking up farming have had to find innovative ways of making use of the available land, more so as arable land is turned into concrete jungles.
As such, zero grazing, kitchen gardening, use of polythene covered pits for fish ponds have become popular ways of farming in city backyards, from the very posh estates to middle class ones.
Much lower on the social and economic ladder, the use of sacks filled with soil, perforated tyres and tins are considered as vegetable gardens for subsistence or sale. This way a farmer is able to do more despite the space limitations.
Green housing farming has also emerged as a favourite for city farmers like Waweru and Ashibon Mwangi. With greenhouse technology, they are not only able to control temperatures but they are able to farm throughout the year.
Currently, Ashibon engages in horticulture from his farm on Old Kiambu Road near Rock City. Although, the benefits of greenhouse farming cannot be disputed, mixed farming is another method urban farmers are earning rewards from.
However, their challenge remains water, though some harvest rainwater while others have sunk boreholes.
Unfriendly laws that prohibit urban farming on land under the City Council are among issues the ministry’s draft policy hopes to find a solution to.
Urban farming laws are captured in the Local Government Act (Cap. 265), Public Health Act (Cap 242), Land Control Act (Cap 302) and Agricultural Act (Cap 318).