Sunflowers in Kibera

Hello, this is Paula. I’m a guest blogger for Su. I wrote about this farm on my blog called Baraza at WildilfeDirect and on a blog about African innovations on Afrigadget and in both cases readers were amazed with what is happening in Kibera. I felt I had to follow up here.

Sunflowers shading the cabbages and transforming the look of the farm

Su called me to tell me that the sunflowers have opened! Recall that They were planted at the end of July using our seed planting gadget (a simple plastic water pipe with a twig taped at the end to create the hole and direct the seed while saving the planters from endless backaches) – I wrote about this and other innovations in Kibera on Afrigadget blog here. It had been months since I’d seen the farm, Peter (BBC Correspondent for East Africa) and I rushed over with Su to get photos knowing that the sight had to be spectacular. Don’t tell him but “Yes” we’re trying to get BBC interested in covering this wonderful positive story out of Africa

sue and Abdulahi

We met Abdulahi at the entrance of the farm which is nicely fenced – he had erected a sign banning all photographers!

Bee on sunflower

I discovered that the sunflowers were there for a purpose, and it was not to beautify the farm. Earlier in this blog Su had mentioned slightly elevated levels of heavy metals in some parts of the shamba (farm). It turns out that sunflowers have a unique ability to extract zinc! It’s complicated interaction between the secretions from earthworms which causes the binding of heavy metals which in turn allows plants to take them up. Sunflowers are extraordinarily efficient at this.

The sad news is that you can’t eat the seeds or compost the leaves as this is where the zinc accumulates. The flowers and leaves sadly have to be burned (even though I’d love to take some home to adorn my living room).

The worm farm has evolved! Here’s the new look, a half barrel filled to the brim with material and worms. The litter around is about to go into the tank.

Su and Mohammed spent some time digging in to look at the little critters which were buried deep because the top few inches were quite dry. He was advised to add more water. The worms digest all the household and crop waste and every month the team pour water ontop of the entire tank and catch what comes out. The worm poo which is conveniently called ‘casts’ dissolves and out comes a nutritious brown liquid that is imaginatively called ‘worm tea’. Anyone for a cuppa?

The worms here are a peculiar blue colour …I hope it’s not a bad sign!

Someone on the afrigadget blog asked how the water for irrigation is paid for? Well, here’s the story. The youth reform group own a watertank and they provide a clean water service to anyone in the community. They sell water by the 20 litre jerrycan to anyone in the community. This generates the income needed to pay for the farm irrigation water.

We also heard how these ex criminals challenged a mafia like group up stream the previous week – these guys had disconnected water to the community of hundreds of thousands of people. I can only imagine the image of ex criminals walking over to the water control valve where they organized the permanent opening of the water supply line! The community was so pleased to have water again that all manner of in kind donations for the construction of the community center were received.


Here’s Abdulahi




And Moha

Su in Kibera

And here’s Su with the guys during the ‘inspection’

Ok, for some reason lay out is completely all over the place!

5 thoughts on “Sunflowers in Kibera

  1. Wow, this is great! Fantastic!
    I work in Kibera with a woman’s group! nice to know you are here too!
    Right on!

  2. Hi Su
    What a wonderful blog and what an incredible transformation of the the land in Kibera.
    The cute bee on the sunflower is a very special indigenous bee – A carpenter bee, looks like Xylocopa hottentota, this species is a good pollinator of many crops including sunflowers. Even more importantly it can pollinate eggplant (aubergines) and passionfruit – which require special manipulation, that even honeybees can’t do. These bees nest in old wooden bits, and need to forage also from wildflowers in areas adjacent to farms… Good luck and look forward to visiting the farm again next year.

  3. I met a student at Boston University who passed your blog along to me. Reading about the amazing work you are doing gives me great hope. Like you said in the earlier post on the no tillage farm, if these practices can be done in in Kenya, they can be done everywhere.

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