Video Diaries from Nairobi-Phase II: Navigating food insecurity in times of the COVID-19 pandemic

Over the past two months, Nairobi residents Mildred, Nelson, Jackline, Alex, Elizabeth, Lucy, Joyce, Sylvester, and Kevin have shared with us how they are experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and how they are coping with the resulting uncertainty of income and access to food.

Through their video diaries, we have gained insights into significant challenges emerging in Nairobi’s urban food system. We have learned that the supply of fresh food to the city is being interrupted and that the food prices have continuously been rising. The participants’ contributions also reflect that most of those working in the informal sector have lost their job opportunities and are going hungry.

The diaries show that government measures to contain the spread of the virus have been negatively affecting the livelihood of already disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, thereby exacerbating existing inequalities. They also show that urban and peri-urban farmers play a crucial role in supplying fresh food to the urban population during this crisis. Further, we could observe that various social coping mechanisms are emerging. Neighbours have been helping each other, for example, by sharing and exchanging food and other services.

To know more, follow this link to access the video diaries of the first project phase.

Kevin Uduni feeding chicken with pumpkin flowers at the Huruma town youth group urban farm in Mathare informal settlement ©Kevin Uduni/TMG Research

By now, it is clear that the pandemic will not be controlled that easily both at global and at the local level, and that strict safety measures will continue to be in place for the near future.

Given these observations, TMG Research, is giving food system actors, from producers to consumers, a platform to report through video dairies, on their very own experience and navigation of securing their food and livelihoods. We are grateful to the Mazingira Institute and the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), for suggesting some of the participants.


Kenya’s government took rigorous measures after the first COVID-19 cases were reported. On 27 March, a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew was issued. A few days later, on 5 April, the cessation of movement into and out of several areas, including the Metropolitan Area of Nairobi, was announced. More measures, e.g., the closure of the borders with Tanzania and Somalia, were taken later on to contain the spreading of the virus.

As cases continue to rise, President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced on 6 June that the dusk-to-dawn curfew and the lockdown of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area, will be extended for another 30 days. While businesses are allowed to reopen under strict regulations, the economy has collapsed and will take time to recover. Schools remain closed until September, posing a major burden on low-income families who have to provide meals for their children who would normally eat at school.

Video Diaries Phase II

In its second phase, the video diaries project continues to give Nairobi residents a platform to share their experiences, their coping with, and navigation of the new COVID-19 instigated reality.

Another eight (8) individuals join the nine (9) participants of the first phase, representing actors from different sectors of the urban food system, namely urban and peri-urban agriculture, the informal food retail and vending system, and consumers.

John and Gregory (holding the phone) are taking a video together at the Mwengenye Lifestyle urban farming training centre in Kayole, Nairobi ©Gregory Kimani/TMG Research

All 13 participants engage through a collaborative visual research method and use smartphones to report personal experiences. Based on the individually recorded video and audio material, short video sequences are continuously published on TMG Research’s Medium page ‘Enabling Sustainability’.

As in the first phase, central to our research is the question which kind of food people in informal settlements of Nairobi have access to, and how they obtain this access in times of crisis. We are interested in finding out what role urban and peri-urban farming and the informal retail and vending system (could) play in overcoming some of the food security challenges posed by a global pandemic like COVID-19. We ultimately hope to collaboratively identify entry points for strategies to make the broader Nairobi food system more resilient to current and future crises, including climate change.

The video diaries will be accompanied by and supplemented with insights gained from personal exchanges and joint reflections of staff from TMG Research, with the participants.

You can find short biographies of each of the participants below.

Video Diaries

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Mwengenye Lifestyle’s Video Diary, 5th of September
Gregory Kimani and John Mwangi from the Mwengenye Lifestyle CBO, located in Kayole, a low-income residential area, observe a surging interest in urban farming during this crisis. Gregory tells that many people have come to their urban farm to learn how to set up their urban kitchen gardens. He states that the Mwengenye group has set up approximately seventy kitchen gardens over the past few months. He says that this surging interest originated with the interruption of value chains during Nairobi’s lockdown, high vegetable prices, and people’s lack of purchasing power due to the loss of income opportunities. Gregory observes this surging interest not only among lower-income groups but also among the middle and higher-income classes. He says many people are more and more interested in consuming safe and organic vegetables.

Kevin Uduny and Sylvester Odhiambo’s Video Diary, 2nd of September
Kevin and Sylvester, two young urban farmers from Mathare, an informal settlement, are experiencing first hand the drastic effects COVID-19 has on food security and nutrition in their community. Many people have lost their income opportunities and can hardly afford to buy food. At the same time, the two young men observe a growing interest in practicing urban farming. Kevin and Sylvester state that people realize the benefits of urban agriculture, having access to food, and an income, by selling the surplus produce. To share their knowledge and experience on urban farming in times of COVID-19, Kevin and Sylvester started the ‘Mathare Urban Farmers’ WhatsApp group. They also invited experts from various fields like the Veterinary Department and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. Already more than 70 people form part of the ‘Mathare Urban Farmers’ WhatsApp group.

Kevin Uduny and Sylvester Odhiambo’s Video Diary, 1st of September
Kevin and Sylvester form part of the Huruma Town Youth Group, located in Mathare informal settlement. The two young men manage the group’s urban farming activities. In this video diary, they share their observation on the surge of urban farming practices. Kevin states that many people have realized the advantage of urban farming, providing them with food and income, in times of this crisis, and little income opportunities.

Mildred Bwasio’s Video Diary, 17th of August
In this video diary, Mildred interviews her neighbor Mama Sharon (Helen Nekesa), who sells fish in Kengemi, an informal settlement in Nairobi. Helen explains that the fish she sells, comes from Kisumu, Victoria Lake region. She buys the fish directly from the buses coming from Kisumu to Nairobi. During the lockdown, she couldn’t get any fish, since the public buses from Western Kenya were not allowed to travel into Nairobi. These were hard times for her since she didn’t have any income. Since the lockdown was removed at the beginning of July, Helen says, things are better. Fish is again coming into Nairobi, and she was able to resume her business. However, fish prices have doubled. To comply with the social distancing rules, public buses can only carry a reduced number of people, explaining the rise in prices. Helen also observes that business is not doing so well since many of her customers have left the city to their rural homes. She says that people are afraid the city could be locked down again, which is why they left, resulting in lower sales and less profit.

Alex Sikina’s Video Diary, 7th of August
Alex is an urban farmer from Kangemi, an informal settlement in Nairobi. In this video diary, he tells us about the most recent developments since the lockdown of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area was removed. Nairobi was locked down for three months, from 5 of April until 6 of July. Alex observes that when the lockdown was removed many people moved to their rural homes since they had lost their jobs in the city, and life in the city is expensive. Alex says that with the removal of the lockdown, his business is doing worse. The economy is still down, and people who stayed in the city are still without jobs. People are not buying the nutritious indigenous vegetables he grows, since they don’t have any purchasing power. The vegetables either get spoiled, or he sells them at a loss.

Mildred Bwasio’s Video Diary, 7th of August
Mildred tells in this video dairy that since Nairobi’s lockdown was removed, vegetables and fruits are again available in larger quantities and at lower prices on the markets. The Nairobi Metropolitan Area was locked down for three months, from April until July. Mildred observes that, for example, oranges were not available in Nairobi during the lockdown, now they are. And a bundle of sukuma (kales) that cost 80 KES (0.8 USD) during the lockdown now costs 30 KES (0.3 USD). Mildred is relieved and says that she can now buy enough vegetables for her family again.

Joyce Mogaka’s Video Diary, 6th of August
Joyce is an urban farmer and mama mboga (market woman) in Kangemi. Since COVID-19, her business has not been doing well. She thought that with the removal of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area’s lockdown on the 6 of July her business would be doing better again, but instead, it has become worse. She notes that many people left the city to their rural homes when the lockdown was removed. And the people who stayed in the town still don’t have jobs, and therefore no money to buy vegetables. Joyce has reduced the cost of the vegetables she sells. She sells vegetables on wholesale directly at her farm and her little kibanda (market stall). She describes that at the farm she used to sell a plot of vegetables (approx.1.5m2) at KES 500 (USD 5.00). Now she sells the same plot of vegetables at KES 200 (USD 2.00). However, she also notes that she is still making enough income to pay her rent, and most importantly, she has enough food to feed her family. Not like many other people in Kangemi, who currently don’t have any income and can hardly afford a meal a day.

Mwengenye Lifestyle’s Video Diary, 5th of July
COVID-19 has caused acute food insecurity in Kayole low-income residential area, where the Mwegenye Lifestyle Community Organization is located. To help the most vulnerable in their community, Gregory and the whole Mwengenye team are distributing vegetable growing bags. The bags come with a variety of vegetable seeds and herbs. The group is also partnering with NGO’s such as SOMO Africa to distribute food packages, including staples such as maize flour. Gregory observes a positive impact of these actions on their community’s food security, and he hopes they can continue with this initiative.

Kevin Uduny and Sylvester Odhiambo’s Video Diary, 2nd of July
Kevin and Sylvester form part of the Huruma Town Youth Group, located in the informal settlement of Mathare. The group members organize different activities to support their community and also to make a livelihood. Kevin and Sylvester are responsible for the urban farming activities. They keep goats and poultry. Since COVID-19 started to spread, their business has not been doing well. Kevin and Sylvester describe that most people in Mathare have lost their jobs and can not afford their products, e.g., goat milk. With the loss of customers, their income has drastically reduced. Kevin and Sylvester stated that they have depleted all their savings by now and had to reduce their number of meals to only one per day. The currently high food prices of especially fresh foods, due to interrupted supply chains and high transport costs, make food access even more difficult. The young men observe that many people in the informal settlement are having a very poor diet, which is why many people are getting sick.

Mwengenye Lifestyle’s Video Diary, 2nd of July
The Mwegenye Lifestyle CBO maintains an urban farming resource center in Kayole, a low-income residential area in Nairobi. Before COVID-19, Gregory was giving regular trainings on urban farming to interested people in their community. COVID-19 has made these training impossible, and the organization has lost an important source of income. Gregory also observes that there is less availability of fresh vegetables on the markets. He tells that sometimes mama mbogas (market women) would come and ask them for vegetables. Gregory laments that, unfortunately, their urban garden can not satisfy all the demand.

Sylvia Kuria’s Video Diary, 28th of June
Sylvia is an organic farmer. She grows vegetables approximately 60km outside of Nairobi in Limuru. Over the past few years, she has developed a successful business, Sylvia’s basket. Sylvia and her team deliver weekly vegetable baskets to Nairobi residents. She observes a rising demand for vegetable home delivery during this pandemic, positively impacting her business.

Mildred Bwasio’s Video Diary, 27th of June
Mildred lives with her 11 family members in the Kangemi informal settlement. In this video diary, she narrates that she has 200 KES at her disposal to spend on food per day for the whole family. But currently, these translated two US Dollars are just enough to provide her family with breakfast only.

Nelson Alusiola’s Video Diary, 27th of June
In this video diary, Nelson tells that most people have lost their jobs, and therefore don’t have money to pay for the reparation for their electronic devices. He says that nowadays people pay him sometimes with food instead of cash. Even though the food might not be worth the price he would have gotten before the Corona crisis, he is still glad for the food, since it helps him feed his family.

Sylvia Kuria’s Video Diary, 26th of June
Sylvia Kuria is an organic farmer. She grows vegetables outside of Nairobi in Limuru. Over the past few years, she has developed a successful business, Sylvia’s basket. Sylvia and her team deliver weekly vegetable baskets to Nairobi residents. She observes a rising demand for vegetable home delivery during this pandemic, positively impacting her business.

Joyce Mogaka’s Video Diary, 21st of June
Joyce resumes the situation since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Kenya. She says that since the government introduced measures to reduce the virus’s spreading three months ago e.g., by locking down the Nairobi Metropolitan Area and imposing a dusk to dawn curfew, businesses are down, people are out of jobs and therefore have no money. Joyce tells us that people expected to resume their jobs last month, but the government extended the lockdown for another month. She says that since then, businesses are performing even worse.

Joyce Mogaka’s Video Diary, 20th of June
Joyce shows us what she prepared for breakfast for her family. This morning she wasn’t able to buy food like mandazi (buns) to accompany the tea with milk. For supper, she prepared vegetables with ugali (maize flour dough). Joyce is an urban farmer and sells the vegetables she grows in Kangemi informal settlement. Her business is not doing well at the moment, and she didn’t have money to accompany the dinner with eggs or meat. But in these difficult times, she is grateful for what she has.

Elizabeth Kemunto’s Video Diary, 18th of June
Elizabeth sells vegetables and fruits in Kangemi, an informal settlement in Nairobi. But since COVID-19, her business is not doing well, and with little income and no social security, she struggles to feed her family. In this video diary, she observes the process of government food donations in Kangemi. Elizabeth shares her impression that the process is being corrupted by local power structures, leading to an unfair distribution of food donations. She and her family have not received any food donations so far. Elizabeth also shares her ideas on how to make the distribution process more equitable, benefitting all those in need.

Mildred Bwasio’s Video Diary, 17th of June
Mildred lives with her nine children and grandchildren, her husband, and brother in law in one single room in the Kangemi informal settlement. In this video diary, she shares her fears due to the fast-spreading of the virus in Nairobi. Mildred observes that the government needs to look into the living conditions, especially in high-density areas like Kangemi, before removing the lockdown, potentially increasing the pace of the spreading of the virus. Mildred also laments that she hasn’t received any of the food donations the government had promised, apart from the donations she received from the Red Cross. She critically observes that not all people in need, like her, have received the promised help, and that the government should carefully look into that.

Nelson Alusiola’s Video Diary, 17th of June
Nelson owns a little electronics workshop in Kangemi informal settlement. With COVID-19 and the accompanying restrictions and economic downturn, he lost most of his clients. Nelson struggles to buy food for his family. In this video diary, Nelson shares his impressions on government food donations. He observes that the process is being corrupted and that only those residents with good connections to government officials are being selected, and informed when and where food is going to be distributed.

Elizabeth Kemunto’s Video Diary, 16th of June
Elizabeth describes how the economic slowdown has affected her business. She is a so-called Mama Mboga, market women, selling vegetables in Kangemi, an informal settlement in Nairobi. Many people have lost their jobs, and therefore have less purchasing power, and consequently are buying fewer vegetables and fruits at her stall. She observes that the roadblocks have contributed to the logistical challenges of bringing food into the city, which led to the rise in prices of commodities in Nairobi. She is worried about the pandemic’s most recent development; more and more people are getting infected with the virus.

Alex Sikina’s Video Diary, 14th of June
Alex shares that he grows mainly indigenous green leafy vegetables on his plot in Kangemi. For example Managu (African Nightshade), Terere (Amaranthus), and Sagaa (Spider Plant). But the indigenous vegetables he grows, are more expensive than the cheaper, but less nutritious Sukuma (kale) and cabbage. Since many people have lost their jobs due to the economic downturn, they don’t have an income, and thus prefer the cheaper vegetables. Therefore Alex is selling fewer indigenous vegetables and he laments the reduced income.

Lucy Gachuhi’s Video Diary, 14th of June
Lucy keeps goats, chicken, and rabbits in her backyard in Embakasi residential area. She usually buys the animal feed on the market, but since the closure of the Kenyan Tanzanian border, she cannot find the feed on the market anymore. Lucy is desperate and worried since she doesn’t know how to feed her animals.

Alex Sikina’s Video Diary, 13th of June
Alex is an urban farmer and he grows mainly indigenous green leafy vegetables on his plot e.g., Managu (African Nightshade), Terere (Amaranthus), and Sagaa (Spider Plant). Alex praises the nutritional and health benefits of these indigenous vegetables. And indeed they are much more nutritious than other commonly consumed vegetables like e.g., cabbage and Sukuma (kale). Indigenous vegetables are rich sources of different vitamins, iron, potassium, zinc, folic acid, calcium, manganese, and proteins. He emphasizes that people should eat more of these indigenous vegetables, especially in these precarious times, when a strong immune system is so important to defeat COVID-19. However, indigenous vegetables are more expensive than e.g., cabbage and Sukuma, so fewer people are buying them. A topic Alex will talk more about in his next video diary.

Beatrice Naliakho’s Video Diary, 13th of June
Betty lives in the informal settlement of Kibera. Like many other people during this crisis, she has lost her job opportunities. Without a job, and no income, she struggles to buy food for her and her family. Betty tells us that the other day the government announced the distribution of food. But so many people need food that the rush was big and things ended in chaos. Finally, no food had been distributed at all. Betty says she has been promised food donations many times but has never received any of it.

Joyce Mogaka’s Video Diary, 12th of June
Joyce, an urban farmer in Kagemi informal settlement, describes in her video diary that before the pandemic, she had employees harvest the crops, pack them up, and bring them to her stall where Joyce sells the product. However, since the economy has slowed down so drastically, and her sales have declined, she doesn’t have the financial means to employ people anymore. Nowadays, her family and her children work on the farm, irrigate, and weed, harvest, and pack up the vegetables.

Gregory, Geofrey & Mwangi’s Video Diary, 10th of June
Mwangi, Gichina, and Geoffrey (first scene, from left to right), founding members of the Mwengege Lifestyle community organization in Kayole, a low-income area in Nairobi, are telling us about the origins of the organization, why and how they founded Mwengenye Lifestyle.

Sylvia Kuria’s Video Diary, 10th of June
As a continuation of Sylvia introducing herself to the audience of the video diaries project (see video diary from the 6th of June), she tells us the origins of the ‘One Acre Movement’ that she founded. Those people telling Sylvia that one acre is not enough to grow sufficient food to sustain a family, she proved wrong. Soon she even produced more than her family could consume, and she started selling the surplus to her neighbors. Sylvia’s basket, her company, was born. Based on her experience and growing knowledge of organic agriculture, Sylvia started to share that knowledge with her neighbors, especially women. Nowadays, Sylvia buys the surplus produce of these farmers she has trained and sells it at her farm shop, and through the weekly vegetable baskets she delivers to several hundreds of Nairobi residents.

Beatrice Naliakho’s Video Diary, 9th of June
In her first video diary, Betty presents herself to us. She is originally from Western Kenya, Bungoma County. But she lives and works in Kibera, an informal settlement in Nairobi. Betty has four children, however many more people depend on her, including the children of her deceased brother and his dead wife.
Betty makes a living cleaning houses. However, since the Corona pandemic has reached Kenya, she can hardly find any job opportunities. People are afraid she could have the virus and thus don’t want her to work for them anymore. Betty describes that life has become tough for her and her family.

Sylvester and Kevin’s Video Diary, 8th of June
Sylvester Odhiambo and Kevin Uduny practice urban farming in the Mathare informal settlement. Through their video diaries, they have been describing the situation in the settlement since the lockdown of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area. Many people have lost their jobs, have no income, and thus can’t afford food anymore. Hunger is prevalent (see their video diary from the 20th of April ). In this video diary, Sylvester interviews a volunteer of the Mathare Piece Initiative (MPI). MPI is distributing food donations to people in need in Mathare.

Elizabeth Kemunto’s Video Diary, 7th of June
Elizabeth describes that in Kangemi (informal settlement), they are facing a severe water shortage. She takes us along to one of the only places in the area with running water, where Elizabeth stands in line with many other women since early in the morning, waiting for her turn to fetch some water. Elizabeth explains that she needs clean water to wash the vegetables she sells at her stall and to provide water for her customers to wash their hands. Having access to sanitation and clean water, especially in these times of COVID-19, is critical. We can observe that keeping social distance in an environment with such a high population density like in Kangemi is already impossible. The additional water shortage and lack of access to clean water make the already difficult situation worse.

John Matheru’s & Stanley Kimani’s Video Diary, 7th of June
Stanley and John are cousins and true entrepreneurs. They tell us their story from growing up in the Kangemi slum and selling shoes on Nairobi’s streets to owning their own cars and driving tourists to Kenya’s famous wildlife destinations. But at the beginning of this year, with COVID-19 starting to spread the world, they were faced with abrupt cancellations of bookings and subsequent total closure of international flights. The two cousins found themselves with a fleet of idle vehicles. However, they quickly adapted to the new circumstances and took up a new business opportunity, trading fresh farm produce. Stanley’s mother mooted the idea of transporting fresh produce that was otherwise perishing on people’s farms due to lack of market and transport to Nairobi. Stanley and John now collect vegetables directly from farmers in Nyandarua County, located approx. 200km from Nairobi, and deliver it to the homes of Nairobi residents. Even though they are facing some challenges, the food vending and home delivery is a lucrative business in times where people are leaving their homes as little as possible.

Sylvia Kuria’s Video Diary, 6th of June
Sylvia shares her journey of becoming an organic farmer ten years ago to owning her own business Sylvias basket, delivering organic vegetables to Nairobi homes. A business that is doing well during this time of crisis, where people are hardly leaving their homes and those with the financial means, are glad to get fresh food delivered to their doorstep.
Sylvia’s vision is to make organic food accessible to everybody, and next to her business, she teaches neighbors, especially women, and school classes about organic farming.

Mildred Bwasio’s Video Diary, 5th of June
Mildred tells us that for one month already, there has been no running water in Kangemi informal settlement where she lives. She takes the camera to show us where she buys water from a borehole to drink and cook. Mildred explains that she buys the water at KSH 20 (0.20 UDS) for a 20l canister. She mentions that those selling the water are taking advantage of the situation. Before, the 20l canister would cost KSH 5 (0.05 USD). Mildred also explains that the borehole water is not clean, and in a follow-up conversation with TMG staff, she states that many people in the area have become sick because they were drinking the borehole water. She also shows us where she washes the clothes in a little stream flowing through Kangemi. Mildred observes that the stream is dirty, and the water can not be used to drink or cook. She has tried to convince her neighboring women to pay a private water tanker and share the price of KSH 10,000 (USD 100). Apparently, it is not possible to buy only a share of the 10’000l tanker; the whole amount must be bought at once. But the women were not able to afford the money, and Mildred keeps on praying for running water.

Elizabeth Kemunto’s Video Diary, 5th of June
Elizabeth describes how her economic situation has deteriorated continuously since the restrictions to contain the spreading of the virus have been implemented. Elizabeth owns a little stall in Kangemi informal settlement where she sells vegetables. But nowadays there are hardly any customers, and the income Elizabeth makes is not sufficient to sustain her family. She can merely buy any food.
Elizabeth describes that the government has donated food to inhabitants of Kangemi but that she has rarely had the chance to get some of that food. She sais that at the distribution points, people are fighting over the food, and there is a risk of getting hurt. Elizabeth doesn’t have the power to fight anymore. She is desperate.

Jackline Sawe’s Video Diary, 27th of May
Jacky, is a young entrepreneur, growing vegetables on the outskirts of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area. For this video diary, she took the camera to document the vegetable availability and prices on two different markets, in Embakasi (a low-income residential area in Nairobi) and Kitengela (a satellite town close to Nairobi). She observes that commodities are available, but generally lower value crops are being sold, as she calls it, ‘crops for the common mwananchi (citizen).’ She notes that especially onions are in low supply, since the border to Tanzania is closed, and this is the season when onions would come in from Tanzania. Jackie also observes that vegetable prices have increased, while tomatoes are slightly more expensive, onions are very expensive. Jackie notes three reasons for the price hike: the closure of borders to neighboring countries, the difficulties traders are facing to pass the roadblocks in and out of Nairobi, and the bad weather situation over the past weeks (heavy rains and low temperatures) affecting the crops. Jackie mentions that traders have to pay a fee (basically meaning a bribe), at the roadblocks, to get in and out of Nairobi Metropolitan Area, causing the food prices to increase even more.

Meet the participants

Gregory Kimani, Geofrey Ngugi & Mwangi wa Njoroge
Gregory (31), Geofrey (26), and Mwangi (29) are founding members of Mwengenye Lifestyle, a community-based organization in Kayole. Kayole is a low-income residential area notorious for lawlessness and crime. Finding themselves without jobs after graduating from university, they combined thoughts to find a way to keep themselves busy. In 2016, the trio mobilized other youth to clean up their surroundings and rehabilitate young people who engaged in crimes and drugs in the neighborhood. Mwengenye Lifestyle was born. Later they expanded activities to incorporate urban farming. Gregory is the group’s coordinator and initiated the organization’s urban farming activities. The group runs an urban agriculture resource and information center. They seek to build the community’s capacity to locally produce organic food, using vertical gardening technologies to optimize space.

Geofrey, Gregory and Mwangi at the Mwengenye urban farm ©Gregory Kimani/TMG Research

Sylvia Kuria
Sylvia Kuria (39), has always had a passion for farming. To take care of her three young children, she opted to leave full-time employment in 2011. When being more at home, she started to grow food in her kitchen garden. From the very beginning, she wanted to grow her food organically. Soon she was producing more than her family could eat, and she started to sell vegetables to her neighbors. Over the years, she has learned more about organic agriculture, and her business Sylvia’s Basket is growing successfully. In 2019, Sylvia opened her first organic farm shop while also doing home delivery to Nairobi residents. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and teaches her neighboring women and school classes about organic farming.

Sylvia Kuria at her farm ©Sylvia Kuria/TMG Research

Beatrice Naliakho
Beatrice Naliakho (52) is a single mother of four, living in Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi. Two of her four children are grown-up and independent. However, Beatrice also provides for the four children of her deceased brother and sister in law. These four children live with Beatrice’s mother upcountry in Busia, while Beatrice earns the necessary income in the city. In Kibera, she shares a single room with one of her daughters and her sister. Beatrice makes a living by cleaning houses in the residential areas of Nairobi West and South C. She has no long term contract. On some days, she is lucky and gets a job; on others, she is not. COVID-19 makes her situation even more precarious.

Beatrice Naliakho ©Beatrice Nabalayo/TMG Research

Peris Lusano
Peris Lusano (27) is a young agronomist working as a farm manager at one of the Miramar International College sites. This private educational institution focuses on empowering young people through agri-entrepreneurial skills, preparing them to manage their farms soon. Peris supports young alumni of the agribusiness training program who learn and practice how to grow crops under hydroponic systems.

Peris Lusano at one of Miramar’s greenhouses ©Peris Lusano/TMG Research

John Matheru and Stanley Kimani
John (37) and Stanley (33) are cousins. A few months ago, they worked in the tourism sector, taking international and local tourists to Kenya’s famous wildlife destinations. Faced with abrupt cancellations of bookings and subsequent total closure of international flights in March, the two cousins found themselves with a fleet of idle vehicles. They quickly adapted their livelihood strategy and took up a new business opportunity, trading fresh farm produce. Stanley’s mother mooted the idea of transporting fresh produce that was otherwise perishing on people’s farms due to lack of market and transport to Nairobi. They now collect farm produce directly from farmers in Nyandarua County, located approx. 200km from Nairobi, and deliver them to the homes of Nairobi residents.

John and Stanley selling vegetables © Stanley Metheru/TMG Research

Joyce Nyachama Mogaka
Joyce Nyachama (40) sells and grows vegetables in Kangemi where she lives with her husband, who works in a hotel, her four children, as well as two children of her deceased sister-in-law. She runs a vegetable stand at Kangemi market, and farms on a little plot nearby, in the same area as Alex Sikina. She trades and sells her produce at Kangemi market.

Joyce with her sister Dorcas in front of their vegetable stall ©Louisa Nelle/TMG Research

Mildred Bwasio
Mildred Bwasio (46), lives in Kangemi, with her husband, eight children, one grandchild, her disabled brother in law and her nephew. For the past ten years, she has been working as a domestic aid in the neighbouring high-income residential area of Loresho. Currently she has only one long term client, where she works on a three-days-a-week arrangement. Her husband is employed as a security guard.

Mildred with her family at home ©Mildred Bwasio/TMG Tesearch

Alex Sikina
Alex Sikina (43) is an urban farmer in the informal settlement of Kangemi, where he lives with his wife, three children, and his two aging parents. Together with his wife he has been cultivating local vegetables for more than 10 years, on a little plot owned by the government. They mainly grow leafy greens such as Managu (black nightshade), Kanzira (Ethiopian kale), collard greens and spinach, and offer them for sale on the local Kangemi market, located less than a kilometer from the farm.

Alex Sikina at his farm in Kangemi, Nairobi © Alex Sikina/TMG Research

Lucy Gachuhi
Lucy Gachuhi (64) is an experienced urban and peri-urban farmer. She lives in the residential area of Embakasi, Nairobi, where she keeps 12 ducks, 50 chickens, 10 rabbits and 11 goats in her little backyard, not bigger than 75m2. In another location south of Nairobi, on the border to Kajiado County, she owns one acre of land, where she grows lettuce in a hydroponic system, which she sells to supermarkets in Nairobi. She also keeps bees for her own and her family’s consumption. Lucy has three adult kids, and takes care of her sister, and her two children with special needs.

Lucy in front of the rabbit cages in her backyard ©Elijah Mwangi/TMG Research

Kevin Uduny and Sylvester Odhiambo
Kevin (34) and Sylvester (27) together with 23 other young people run the Huruma Town Youth Group, in the Mathare informal settlement. They engage in different communal activities, and make an income with horticulture farming, livestock keeping, water vending, and organic waste collection for composting. Kevin, Sylvester and two other colleagues are responsible for the farming activities. They keep ducks, chicken, doves, and goats in a small public space with permission from the local administration. Back in 2009 they started with only two goats, but now are the proud owners of 17 goats. The nutritious milk is very popular among their customers.

Kevin and Sylvester feeding their goats ©Louisa Nelle/TMG Research

Elizabeth Kemunto
Elizabeth Kemunto (34) is a greengrocer in Kangemi, where she lives with her husband, who works as a security guard, and her four young children. Early in the morning she buys vegetables at Kangemi market to sell it in the Kangemi settlement.

Elizabeth in front of her vegetable stall in Kangemi ©Elizabeth Onyango/TMG Research

Nelson Alusiola
Nelson Alusiola (40), lives in the informal settlement Kangemi with his four children and two aging parents. Nelson currently runs a small electronics workshop after he lost his job as a driver due to the impacts of the Corona pandemic.

Nelson in front of his electronics workshop in Kangemi © Nelson Alusiola/TMG Research

Jackline Sawe
Thirty-four-year-old Jackline Sawe, is a young entrepreneur, farming on the outskirts of Nairobi. She studied chemistry, but her passion has always been farming. Three years ago, she started leasing six-acres of land where she grows different high and low value crops. Her main clients are schools and restaurants in Isinya and Kitengela, satellite towns of Nairobi, as well as traders from Nairobi. She also does home delivery to several estates in Nairobi town.

Jackline Sawe at her farm ©Jackline Sawe/TMG Research

Written by Louisa Nelle, Dr. Serah Kiragu-Wissler and Dr. Sarah Ann Lise D’haen.

This article is part of Covid-19 Food/Future, an initiative under TMG ThinkTank for Sustainability’s SEWOH Lab project ( It aims at providing a unique and direct insight into the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on national and local food systems. Also follow @CovidFoodFuture and @TMG_think on Twitter. Funding for this initiative is provided by BMZ, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.



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TMG is an applied research group focusing on climate and energy, land and food systems, Agenda 2030 governance, and innovations for sustainable transformations.