Vertical Farming in Kenya: Combining New Sustainability Practices in 2022

The Kenyan traditional agricultural industry, which employs a staggeringly large percentage of rural Kenyan communities, is in dire straits. 

While vertical farming in Kenya offers a climate-proof solution to combat the devastating effects of climate change, rapid urbanization, and systemic poverty, it has a unique set of challenges that require smart methodologies and innovative solutions to establish a thriving enterprise and eliminate any issues.

Can the benefits of vertical farming in Kenya be the solution to agricultural struggles it’s facing? 

Kenya Uses Vertical Farming To Power Social Change

Local non-profit RODI is in the intricate process of effecting profound social change in Kenya in partnership with the Vertical Farming Institute by advocating for vertical farming to benefit vulnerable slum communities who do not have access to fresh produce. 

Their aim as a Non-Profit is to create urban farming peer educators and to upskill prisoners, students, and community-based groups in sustainable agriculture where they reside.

Moreover, the Kenyan government demonstrated its faith in the power of the vertical farming sector to effect social change by establishing the 200-hectare Konza Technology City, south of Nairobi, to create much-needed jobs for the region’s youth.

The Challenges For Food Systems And Citizens In Kenya

An image showing vertically farmed vegetables.

Kenya’s faltering agricultural sector, which employs approximately 40% of the country’s entire population, and 70% of its rural population, is closely tied to severe poverty as a large proportion of its land is arid with unpredictable precipitation resulting in limited sources of water that are often unavailable for large parts of the year.

This uncertainty has led to severe periods of famine in certain parts of Kenya, where more than 36.5% of the population suffers from malnutrition due to a limited food supply and subsequently threatened food security.

Like in several other developing countries, mass migration from poverty-stricken rural areas to urban areas and slums with high unemployment levels has exacerbated the Kenyan metropole poverty crisis.

To make matters worse, Kenya is forced to import their staple foodstuff as their agricultural sector cannot produce enough food to meet demand. Subsequently, this, in turn, leads to an over-reliance on fertilizers, and harmful pesticides, which in turn degrades agricultural soil, which is not permitted to regenerate.

Nairobi’s industrial effluent and sewage mostly end up in rivers that are used to irrigate agricultural crops. Carcinogens such as toxic Round-Up are often used to destroy weeds. These leach into water sources which has resulted in harmful and inedible local produce that is slowly poisoning and killing the local communities.

To further illustrate this point, there have been several instances of cancer that can be directly attributed to the consumption of local produce. Consequently, this has led to a call for the Kenyan government to declare a national state of disaster.

The Prospect Of Vertical Farming In Kenya

Agriculture plays a vital role throughout Africa to such an extent that it provides 15% of the continent’s GDP and is perceived as a vital tool to reduce poverty and severe inequality.

While vertical farming in Kenya could contribute to social reform, it is not without its challenges due to frequent electricity shortages and the expenses associated with start-up expenses. 

However, it is possible to mitigate these risks by partnering with the government and private sectors, including universities, research organizations, or civil society, who see the value of vertical farming in Kenya.

Africa offers entrepreneurs and innovators a plethora of opportunities to cultivate indigenous vegetable varieties that are currently in high demand, especially in cities like Nairobi. Vertical farming in Kenya could be the driver needed to promote innovation in this sector.

Are Vertical Gardens The Future Of Farming In Africa?

Like the rest of the world, Africa is seeing rapid urbanization, which could result in 70% of the continent’s population residing in cities by 2025.

Furthermore, discerning urban-based consumers are willing to pay more for organic, fresh local produce. While there has been a significant increase in vertical farming ventures throughout Africa, it still has to go a long way to constitute a boom in the industry.

Although a few novel African vertical farming establishments have demonstrated the fact that entrepreneurs face significant challenges on the continent, which requires a unique approach to farming.

  • The most pertinent barrier to establishing a vertical farm in Africa is to have enough start-up capital. High-tech vertical farms can cost between $80 and $100 million, which is a staggering amount, especially in the African context.
  • Moreover, research is required to ascertain which seed varieties and automated lighting programs would be suitable for African climates, which requires a substantial additional investment.
  • Another barring factor is a lack of access to reliable energy sauces, which is vital due to frequent power cuts that can devastate a vertical farmed crop.

Entrepreneurs are therefore compelled to employ innovative and creative methodologies in their vertical farming building methods and designs to establish a unique African, cost-effective thriving venture.

A prime example of this approach is using solar instead of an LED lighting system when vertical farming in Kenya, including locally sourced materials like wood. Therefore, entrepreneurs should ideally start with low-tech systems which can be tailor-made for vertical farms in African regions.

Starting Vertical Farming in Kenya

Although operating vertical farming in Kenya might be challenging, the country has demonstrated the power of innovative thinking in the vertical farming sector.

To illustrate this point, inexpensive sacks that cost less than a US dollar are used to create vertical gardens with locally sourced materials that produce the same yields as vertical farms in other countries.

An image showing bag farming in Kenya.
An example of bag farming.

This innovative, unique African methodology has been replicated all over Kenya, and there are currently more than 22 000 families in the region of Kibera who are producing their own sustainably produced crops.

While Nairobi-based, Ukulima Tech has created four contemporary vertical farm prototypes consisting of a tower and hanging gardens, vertical farm structures, A-framed, and multifarious gardens. All these vertical farming models require limited amounts of water and pesticides.

You can check out this video to see Ukulima Tech in action pioneering vertical farming in Kenya.

Final Thoughts on Vertical Farming in Kenya

With rapid urbanization and a declining traditional agricultural sector, it is clear that vertical farming may play a pivotal role in addressing endemic poverty and hunger throughout the African continent.

However, investors and entrepreneurs will have to employ African-centric, innovative solutions to thrive in the much-needed Kenyan vertical farming sector.

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