Dagoretti — Leonard Gichuru Gitau is a city dweller, but it doesn't take a detective to see that he is also a livestock farmer. The lowing of cattle greets visitors to his neatly built home of timber and sheet metal on the western outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya's capital, as the scent of manure hangs in the air.

http://allafrica.com/download/pic/main/main/csiid/00221081:176921f0c6167d79c8788141d9536a07:arc614x376:w614:us1.jpgWedged between the structures on his small plot are freshly stacked maize stalks, which over the next few days will be used as fodder. The remains of feed cleaned from the troughs will be mixed with the dung cleared from the sheds to make manure for the coming planting season.

"There was a city bylaw which was restricting urban agriculture," says the 71-year-old farmer. "But it was later withdrawn, after we showed the officers that we could farm in a safe and clean environment."

Gitau represents a trend. The United Nations Environment Programme, headquartered in Nairobi, says cities in Africa are growing faster than anywhere else. Cows, goats and chickens are part of that growth, especially in informal settlements on the urban periphery.  One in 80 Dagoretti households keeps cattle, with an average of three per household, according to the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute  (ILRI).

"The dairy sector is a rapidly growing area with the potential to feed urban populations," says Dr. Amos Omore, a veterinary epidemiologist with ILRI. "If it is given the necessary support, it can contribute a good share of revenue to a country's GDP."

It can also help to address a hidden crisis. In Kenya, nearly 46 percent of children – even if they ingest enough calories and appear healthy – are so undernourished as to be "stunted".

Most children in poor communities like Dagoretti subsist largely on maize – corn meal – porridge, with too little protein or nutrients. Meat is rarely affordable. Beans require scarce water and fuel to cook. There are few nearby vendors of eggs or vegetables.

"Malnutrition is responsible for about 11 percent of the global disease burden - it kills some six children every minute," said Jay Naidoo, Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Partnership Council at theGlobal Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), in an interview. "That is like one planeload of children crashing every four hours somewhere in the world."

Written by David DJAGI


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