Kenyans and more so those who live in major urban centres have been feeling the pinch as the cost of food, fuels, rent and transportation are constantly going up while salaries remain largely stagnant. It is like expenses grow at the pace of a cheetah while salaries are stuck at the pace of a tortoise.
It is estimated that Kenyans spend between 40 and 50% of their income on food. The poor and middle-class families are hardest hit by the tough economic times, with some resulting to borrowing in order to put food on the table while others skip meals regularly because they can’t afford to eat.
The food budget is a major contributor to debts as at least half of loans taken by families in the city of Nairobi are for food, higher than what goes into school fees. There are many families in urban centres who purchase their food on credit and pay weekly or monthly, depending on their employment terms.
Save on food budget and still feed your family well
Bringing down the expenditure on food can free some substantial amount of money that families can direct to other expenses such as school fees for the children.
When I was growing up in a rural area, I saw my mother successfully supplement her teacher’s salary through farming. She was able to save costs by growing a lot of the food that the family required and even made a decent secondary income by selling the surplus.
All is not lost if you live in an urban setup since there are creative ways to be a farmer even when living in the city. Urban dwellers have been known to keep a chicken or two in the backyard, in an effort to reduce their food budget.
Fresh vegetables – besides being among the foods that are always in high demand in urban centres – cause minimal inconvenience for the neighbors if grown in the city, unlike rearing animals.
Do you have some space in your compound, even on verandas or balconies? Be creative. Use sacks, pots, trays, old water tanks, old vehicle tyres or plastic bottles to grow crops. Herbs such as thyme, chives, parsley, sage, coriander (dhania), oregano, rosemary, basil, mint which fetch good prices in the market, are very suitable for growing in containers.
Spinach, sukuma wiki (kales), carrots, potatoes, beetroots, traditional vegetables such as managu or amaranth as well as onions can be grown in containers in a very small space. Strawberries, pineapples and even fruit trees such as lemons or oranges can be grown in containers too.
Experiment with different crops and discover for yourself which ones are suitable for this sort of farming and which ones are not.
Wooden structures and even plastic bottles suspended on strings can create more space. If you do a good job, you can grow enough fruits, vegetables or herbs to meet the needs of your family and still be left with surplus to sell.
You can go organic
You will need to get top soil and manure to fill in the containers before planting your crops, both which are available for sale. Mix the soil and manure thoroughly to ensure even distribution. You can save on the cost of manure by turning organic waste into compost. Have different containers for organic kitchen waste from other household waste.
For pots and other containers that do not allow water to drain, make some holes at the bottom and put some stones first before adding the soil. This will help with drainage, to protect your crops from water logging and keep them healthy.
Sacks, old tyres and tanks do well when put outside in the compound rather than on a balcony or veranda. Go for them if you have extra space in your compound. Ensure that your crops have access to sunshine.
Plants that are grown in containers don’t consume a lot of water so you have no cause to start worrying about water bills. People who buy water can still do this kind of farming since even a 20-litre jerrican is sufficient to water a sack with 50 or more plants.
Using recycled plastic bottles to do irrigation is a viable way of improving water usage as they make very good sprinklers. You may also tap rain water.
The startup capital is not high since a sack can cost between 1,000 and 1,500 shillings and could cost as low as 500 shillings from some vendors. If well taken care of, a sack can be used for up to five years.
The prices of pots vary depending on the materials used as well as the designs. Some simple clay pots cost 300 to 500 shillings while some luxury porcelain or concrete pots can cost up to 10,000 shilling or more per piece. Pots can be used for a long time too.
This business of planting crops in containers is economical, sustainable and can be done all the year round because the farming is not dependent on the rains since it largely relies on irrigation. It is only labour intensive when setting it up, meaning that one might need extra help for a day or two during planting.
Maintenance can be done as a side hustle even if one has a full-time job especially because no weeding is required. Change the soil after every harvest. Vegetables take a couple of months from the time they are planted to be ready for harvesting and some like spinach and kales can give returns for close to a year.
Using containers to plant crops can also be used by people who have small parcels of land to optimize use of resources.
The kitchen garden business can be combined with food processing, meaning that you can process what you harvest in order to increase profits and give the fresh produce a longer shelf life. Making home made jam, marmalade or fresh juices from the crops you grow or drying and packaging herbs is value addition.