Leonard Gichuru Gitau lives in the city. But it doesn’t take a detective to see that he is a livestock farmer. The sound of cattle lowing greets visitors to his neatly built home of timber and sheet metal.
Mr. Gichuru Gitau’s farm is in Dagoretti, on the western outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. The scent of manure hangs in the air. Piles of maize stalks are wedged between the buildings on his small plot. These will be used as fodder over the next few days.
There was a time when this sort of urban agriculture wasn’t allowed. But Mr. Gichuru Gitau is now part of a growing trend of livestock farmers in African cities. The farmers must conform with health requirements. In return, they provide growing cities with milk, meat, and eggs.
Mr. Gichuru Gitau explains that there used to be a bylaw in Nairobi restricting urban agriculture. “But,” he notes, “it was later withdrawn after we showed the officers that we could farm in a safe and clean environment.”
In fact, the government of Kenya is now actively promoting urban farming – including livestock rearing. It has posted veterinary, animal production, and crop agents in major urban centres. Their job is to promote farming on city peripheries, while safeguarding public health.
As African cities grow, so does the importance of urban agriculture as a source of food. Urban livestock farmers can be a valuable source of protein-rich foods to supplement grain-based diets.
Amos Omore is a veterinary epidemiologist with the International Livestock Research Institute, which is based in Nairobi. He says, “The dairy sector is a rapidly growing area with the potential to feed urban populations.” Mr. Omore argues that, with the right support, urban cattle farmers can make a significant contribution to the country’s economy.
Much of the government support involves teaching farmers to manage the risks associated with raising cattle in urban areas. Samuel Ndung’u Kiriba is chairman of the Dagoretti dairy farmers group. He explains: “The livestock officers train us on how to keep the cattle clean, on hygienic feeding, and how to keep the milk clean through safe storage.”
Delia Grace is a researcher with the International Livestock Research Institute. She lists some of the measures farmers can take to reduce the risk of transmitting disease from humans to animals. These include: wearing gloves and other protective clothing, cleaning cattle housing regularly, making sure children do not come into contact with manure, and boiling milk before drinking it.
For the government, well-managed urban farms are an important source of food for expanding cities. The meat, milk and eggs produced or sold by city households produces revenue, protects against food price volatility, and improves nutrition and health.
For farmers, raising livestock can be a good source of income. Mr. Ndung’u Kiriba has been supplying milk to his neighbours through informal retailers for five years. Milk sales have enabled him to send his five children to school. He says, “My three cattle can fetch me at least a thousand Kenya shillings (about $12 American) in a day.” Urban livestock farmers like Mr.Ndung’u Kiriba are proving that careful, hygienic animal husbandry can pay off.