- Teagan Quinlan
How Kibera Developed and Maintains Its Diverse Cuisine: Sack Gardening
It is no doubt that food is an essential part of human existence, and cuisine an innate part of cultural expression. Around the world, cuisine differs by culture, climate, religion, and availability, dating back to the earliest accounts of humanity. Despite the common notion that cuisine is only present in places that are flourishing economically, a diverse cuisine is present in Kibera, Kenya, the largest urban slum in Africa. Kibera occupies 225 hectares - roughly half the size of Central Park - and houses around 800,000 people. Despite restrictions such as limited refrigeration, poor sanitation, and a lack of space for agricultural use, residents of Kibera have created a unique cuisine, reflecting the diversity of cultures represented in its population.
Although the Nubian tribe had originally settled in the land surrounding Kibera, this slum has been influenced by British colonialism, among other ethnic groups. The Nubian people, who are mostly Muslim, make up around 15% of Kibera’s population. The Kikuyu tribe, the biggest tribe in Nairobi, is also present in Kibera, mostly as landlords. The majority of tenants in Kibera are Luo, Luhya, and Kamba, all from the west of Kenya. The ethnic diversity in Kibera has resulted in a unique society with a complex and distinctive cuisine that blends traditional foods from all ethnic groups in Kibera.
As poverty tourism becomes increasingly popular throughout the globe, a new opportunity has opened up for many Kibera residents: introducing their unique cuisine to tourists. Tourists and locals alike are met with an array of tastes and smells coming from street-vendors and outdoor produce markets. Vegetable Samosas eaten with tea; Mutura, an African sausage; Pilau rice; boiled cassava; dried fish caught in Lake Victoria; Changaa, an alcoholic drink; and Githeri, a boiled mix of maize and beans, fried with onions and tomatoes. Food vendors not only cater to tourists but also to residents in Kibera, who often don’t have access to cooking facilities and are searching for a low-cost and time-effective meal.
Street food vendors and families alike need access to fresh foods, which are often in high demand and low supply in the developing world. Kibera, along with other developing areas, is rapidly urbanizing, resulting in little space for residents to grow agriculture. This lack of access to fresh, sustainable, and cost-conscious food has only contributed to the growing food shortages in slums across the world. To combat this, households have begun to participate in a new form of urban agriculture: sack gardening is where vegetables are planted into large sacks filled with topsoil. This idea for sack farming was first introduced to Kibera by the French NGO Soladarites, which provided Kibera residents with training, seeds, sacks, and all necessary tools to begin a sack garden.
This style of farming has been proved to sustain households even amidst food shortages. During the 2007 post-election conflict in Kibera, no food was able to go into Kibera. However, Red Cross International noted that most residents sustained themselves because so many of them were growing crops in sacks. By growing fruits and vegetables in sacks, this agriculture is moveable and conscious of the limited space that most residents have. Sack gardening in Kibera has been proved to increase household food security and expand a household's dietary diversity. It also allows for Kibera’s unique cuisine to flourish, reducing the risk of food shortages and giving households a second option amidst rising food prices.
Despite food shortages and rising prices for basic necessities in Kibera, the slum's unique and diverse cuisine has persisted. With the use of sack farming and other urban agriculture techniques, households have been able to grow fresh fruits and vegetables necessary for maintaining businesses and feeding families. The complexity of Kibera's cuisine attests to the diversity of culture and gives outsiders and residents a glimpse into the area's celebrated ethnic groups.