This Saturday I visited the Kibera Slum in Nairobi with Paula of
WildlifeDirect and her remarkable sister Su Kahumbu, one of Kenya’s
most passionate organic farmers who is working very hard to raise
awareness about organic farming and other issues related to good
Isaak, a partial hearing child attached himself to me immediately
The Kibera Slum is probably not the kind of place you would ever
expect to hear about on a conservation blog. Many people associate the
slum with images of violence and chaos especially in the recent
violence that erupted in Kenya. However, given that a third of the
population of Nairobi lives in the slum (estimated at nearly 1 million
people!), the needs and hopes of the people who live there need to be
part of the big issues addressed by conservationists.
To those who livet here, garbage is just a part of the landscape. It is dumped in any open spaces, and is the unbelievable playground and hunting area for young children.
We went to look at a wonderful project that is literally, just taking
root, with a local Youth Group. A group of former prisoners are
cleaning up and restoring a piece of land that is basically a garbage
dump on the edge of the railway tracks. This piece of land is being
turned into an organic farm.
After one week the garbage had been cleared from the dump and neatly piled for erosion control, and soil prepared for planting
What impressed me about this project, apart from the incredible joy,
hope and determination of the people involved, was the way that life
itself – biodiversity – has made an unbelievable comeback on the land
Sorrel and other plants grow wild here – the seeds come in the garbage
Negotiating the open sewers clogged with plastic bags and refuse, eyes
smarting from the fumes from endless fires burning everything from
dried fish to old batteries, one would be forgiven for thinking that
life barely survives here. But nothing could be further from the
truth. Given just a little breathing space to heal, Mother Nature has
begun to bounce back with vigour.
One of the first things was to restore the natural processes of decay
and nutrient cycling to the soil. And of course who better to do this
than those tireless soil-making machines, our dear little friends the
earthworms. In beds fed with scraps, the earthworms have been
established and are rapidly increasing in number (they are
hermaphrodites and can mate multiply!).
These children have hardly been exposed to natural vegetation or animals. On being introduced to worms the first child thought they were snakes and the first worm was hurled onto the railway tracks – the little boy believing he’d rescued us from a deadly bite!
As I walked over the soft, fragile soil, carefully raked clean of
debris, a brief rapid fluttering caught my eye. Intrigued, I followed
the tiny grey fleck as it whirled through the air. Finally, after
several frustrating minutes, it settled on a piece of paper lying on
the ground. I peered closely and was very pleasantly surprised. This
was a Woolly Legs – a strange and wonderful butterfly whose
caterpillars are carnivorous and feed on scale insects and other
similar pests! This makes them a useful insect and a cherished friend
of farmers who need to control scale insects on their crops.
Later, as the sun warmed the red soil, another flash of colour swirled
around coming to rest on a rock. Here was a newly arrived Painted Lady
– a migrant species, that has come to the tiny patch of land to start
a new generation of butterflies. She sat sunning herself on the rocks
in between the freshly dug furrows. Her choice of this spot also
indicates that the land is healing and welcoming to living things. The
herbs now allowed to sprout freed from the suffocating piles of
rubbish will bring in more and more insects. We saw 15 different
species of butterflies on the farm over the rest of the day –
absolutely amazing and wonderful.
Butterflies were not the only creatures making a comeback. We saw five
different kinds of bees, including honeybees, feeding from the small
patch of flowers at the edge of the little farm. These will be
important pollinators once the crops are established. A number of
dragonflies were also patrolling the area. They too are friends well
worth having as they feed on pesky flies and mosquitoes. Even the pile
of plastic bags raked out of the plot, piled up and planted on as an
erosion barrier was beginning to attract creatures – several small
spiders had taken up residence here.
As the land continues to heal and more and more plants are established
the numbers of creatures is bound to grow and I look forward to
visiting again and seeing who else has come back to live on the farm
and help the farmers keep the land healthy and productive. This also
goes to show you that life can thrive absolutely anywhere – we just
have to give her a chance!
The children were absolutely amazing, funny, happy and healthy! They have been incorporated into the project for future generations. They had the privilege of being the first to plant seeds in the seedbeds.