Unlike many of its rural areas, Kenya’s urban areas are a centre for opportunities. They are home to technology, education, industry and culture. It’s for this reason many people now move from their rural homes and set up in the city. This spontaneous growth of urban areas has led to the development of informal settlements or slum dwellings. In these slums space is limited and many people no longer have the capabilities to sustain themselves off the land, but a small charity called Haller is changing this.
Haller shows people how to recreate the things they might have had in rural villages in much smaller, confined spaces. Using innovative techniques they demonstrate how people can produce food, purify water and use sustainable energy.
Here some examples of how they do this.
Vegetable beds can be created using old tyres, plastic sacks and crates. This recreates the growing space that would have been available in a rural setting. Vertical planting can create living walls, further maximising the space. Not only does utilising the space allow families to produce their own food but it can provide health benefits.
Medicinal plants are both easy to grow and have a wide range of uses. A well-known problem is malaria, but basic plants can help prevent this. Neem leaves have been known to prevent malaria and artemisia can be dried and used to make tea; the final product helps to bring temperatures down and can help cure malaria. Basic digestive and liver problems can be aided using turmeric whilst lemongrass provides relief from colds. Aloe vera can be grown for its antibacterial qualities and used for burns and infections. Some plants may be grown for their high nutrition values. Moringa is incredibly nutritious; high in proteins, potassium and iron, it can help combat malnutrition and strengthen the immune system. But that’s not all, its seeds can purify water and its bark can be used as an antiseptic. All of this can be grown despite limited space.
A unique aquaponics system has been designed to utilise the outside space. The system integrates many components, such as fish and vegetable farming, whilst minimising water usage and maximising yields. The system is comprised of a water tank, vegetables growing in baskets, fish tanks, a small pump and chickens. Water is pumped up through channels before slowly dripping back through each component. Water enters the vegetable baskets where roots trap any nutrient and filter the water before it enters the fish tanks providing them with clean aerated water. The fish droppings then enrich the water with nutrients for the next basket. A small pump at the bottom of the system powered either by solar energy or by hand, returns the water to the top tank. The aquaponics system also provides space for chickens. Their droppings provide free food for the fish and their eggs can be used for consumption or sold. Most importantly the entire system is affordable, using materials that can be sourced locally.
One of the most basic problems in Africa is access to clean drinking water, but there are plenty of water bottles. Water can be bottled and left in the sun to allow UV light to kill off any bacteria. After only 6 hours families can have their own totally free source of clean drinking water.
Access to electricity can be hard to come by in slum dwellings, but solar energy provides a free source. One small solar panel on the roof is enough to power a small pump for the fish tanks and provide a small amount of light in the evenings. This makes a huge difference as family life can continue after dark. Children can study and money previously invested in kerosene or candles can be spent elsewhere.
As well as providing families with access to drinking water and solar energy, Haller has also designed a biogas digester. This provides families with a healthier and more economical alternative to coal or firewood. Plant waste and manure are mixed with water to make slurry. After a few days this produces methane which is captured and pumped into the house to be used for cooking or lighting. An added benefit is that the left over nutrient rich slurry can be used to fertilise crops.
A refrigerator may seem an impossible luxury in a slum, but there is a simple alternative; a charcoal cooling system. No electricity is needed, water is simply poured over the charcoal and the evaporation and change in temperature creates a cool box.
Haller has also devised a way to keep the house itself cool. A very basic form of air conditioning can be created by placing two holes in the wall. The air flow between them helps to cool the room.
Although currently these systems and ideas are only unique to Kenya the idea is that the model can be applied worldwide.
Megan Smith is a third year student studying Ecology and Wildlife Conservation in Bournemouth. She has completed work placements with the Research Institute for Nature and Forestry and the UmPhafa Reserve in South Africa, owned by Colchester Zoo. She plans to go on to do a masters degree once she graduates.