How can the promising potential for innovative food waste recycling by young entrepreneurs in Nairobi urban markets be realised?

Share this to :

Authors: Joy Carey, RUAF; and Sam Ikua, Mazingira Institute

 A shorter version of this article was published by Urbanet in December 2023

A recent monitoring exercise in Nairobi with urban market food waste recycling champions suggests highly successful capacity building in terms of skills awareness and motivation. However further investment in equipment, infrastructure, business skills and marketing is essential if the ambitions of both the support organisations and food waste champions are to be realised. Joy Carey and Sam Ikua reflect on their visit.

The City of Nairobi in Kenya with a population now estimated at 5,325,160 finalised a comprehensive and ambitious Nairobi City County Food System Strategy in 2022 that seeks to ‘ensure that Nairobi residents’ access adequate, safe, quality, nutritious and affordable food now and in the future’. This document brings together the policies, strategies and frameworks that will be implemented by the government, stakeholders and development partners to address the gaps in the food system and assure the present and future populations of Nairobi City of consistent and adequate amounts of safe, affordable, accessible and nutritious food. It has four key objectives: to increase urban food production, to improve urban supply, processing and distribution of staples and provide secure incomes, to reduce food losses and waste, and to ensure consumer welfare with a particular focus on vulnerable populations.

City Food Strategy

The presence of the NCC Food System Strategy is helping to connect very wide groups of stakeholders, both within the City Government and with external organisations to work more collaboratively on shared goals. It provides a strategic umbrella for initiatives that can now be viewed as part of ‘the system’ rather than separate entities with their donors, for example, the award-winning Urban Early Warning and Early Action pilot project which monitors and responds to the food security situation in the informal settlements of Nairobi through county government led mechanisms.

In mid-November 2023, an intensive two-day workshop, with Directors and key officers of the Nairobi Food and Agriculture Sector and the Monitoring and Evaluation Sector, co-create a monitoring plan with outcome indicators, designed to support and track the progress of the strategy’s implementation. This work is being supported by RUAF and its Nairobi partner, Mazingira Institute, as part of the CGIAR Research Initiative on Resilient Cities (WP5) to improve indicators, metrics and data tools. Two of the new indicators were selected at the end of the workshop for an immediate pre-test with expert field staff who run the NCC Food and Agriculture Sector extension training programme in urban agriculture. One of these indicators focussed on the impact of food waste management practices in fresh food markets in the city. A group 13 members took part in a focus group discussion that followed an agreed set of questions formulated by the NCC expert field staff. 

Korogocho food waste champions

In the last couple of years, Nairobi City County (NCC), FAO and OXFAM Kenya (through its Urban Hives programme) have partnered to build capacity amongst youth and market traders from Korogocho Market, to enable new food waste champions to both earn a living through creating sellable products from recycled market food waste and contribute to the management of market food waste. Korogocho Food Waste Management Champions activities began in April 2022 with the ambition to reduce market food waste by 50%, reducing the volume of food waste otherwise sent to the infamous Dandora dumpsite close by or simply dumped into the local river.

Korogocho, (meaning ‘crowded shoulder-to-shoulder’ in Swahili) is located about 7.6 kilometres from the Nairobi city centre and is the fourth largest informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. The total population and area covered by Korogocho has expanded over the years, though reports offer slightly different figures.  The Global Early Adolescent Study reports that in 2013, Korogocho covered a land area of 0.52 km2 and had a total estimated population of 31,784, of which 10 per cent were young people aged 10 to 14 years. By 2018 the population was estimated at 36, 276. Some reports say the area is now home to some 150000+ people living in an area of 1.5km2. Whatever the exact figures, the area is one of the most congested and densely populated in Kenya. In 2022, Africanews reported on the increased use of woven plastic bags in place of costly charcoal for household cooking fuel in Korogocho despite the dangerous consequence of poisonous fumes produced on combustion.

Food waste recycling activities in Korogocho market

The Korogocho food waste champions group has over 100 members, 46 female and 56 male and is structured around different roles. During the focus group discussion, group representatives outlined their range of motivations for engaging in the recovery/recycling of food waste including creating a cleaner environment, job creation and generating income by changing waste into money, changing the perspective of the market and the local area as being a dirty environment, the transformation of waste into useful products (intrinsic value, not only economical), keeping young people productively positive, and creating sources of input for Urban Agriculture and thus for food security. The group currently deals with about 3 tonnes of food waste per week (500kg per day) but says they could do so much more if they had more space and processing capacity.

They have received excellent training in a wide range of techniques and approaches to food waste recovery and recycling, supported by Ms Kaari Abidan from NCC Food and Agriculture Sector. Training has included composting and vermiculture; making fuel briquettes out of banana leaves and artificial firewood out of avocado stones; urban agriculture techniques and technologies like hydroponics using the liquid from vermiculture to grow kale, other green vegetables and herbs for their own consumption; making yoghurt, extracting avocado oil. making tomato juice and paste, toothpaste, smoothies, mango jam; crisps from arrow root, sweet potatoes, banana, cassava; farming Black Soldier Fly for poultry feed; making soap from potatoes, carrots, aloe vera, avocado and turmeric; sun-dried vegetables and fruits; polymerisation to make poles using waste plastics.


Fired banana leaf briquettes and avocado stone residue in the solar dryer (Photo: Sam Ikua)

Current capacity and space limitations means the group is focussed on making compost, vermiculture and use of vermi-juice for the hydroponic system, making briquettes and artificial firewood, and the extraction of avocado oil (for cosmetic use, not consumption).

In terms of income generation, so far, the group is earning Ksh 10-15,000 (€60-90) per month from selling products in the market and at other events, eg Nairobi International Trade Fair. They recently won a national prize for their enterprise.

The group is immensely proud of the effects of their food waste management in the market so far and reported impacts to date as reduction of overall waste in the market area, a cleaner environment, with no more dumping of food waste from market traders into the nearby river. Group members are actively and positively engaged through activities making their organic fertilizer (compost and vermi-juice) for organic food production. For some members, these activities offer a form of rehab from previous drug use. They are also very aware of how these activities help to reduce GHG emissions – by avoiding the waste going to landfills, cleaner fuel contributing to cleaner air at a household level, and the value of organic fertilisers to soil health and conservation.

When asked about current challenges and future training needs, the responses were both pragmatic and ambitious. The group have insufficient capacity to deal with all the market waste – in terms of both physical person-power and lack of sufficient space on the site combined with a lack of infrastructure and buildings required to scale up and standardize production (eg yoghurt). Lack of standardization of products means marketing is a challenge. They need electricity for some of the recycling processes, but the cost is too high. They also need more mechanization to speed up and make the processing more efficient. They requested further training on machinery maintenance and repair, financial management, branding and marketing of products, power generation using food waste, solar energy and biogas production to power their own recycling processes and finally food safety training to get started properly on value addition activities of new edible products.

Their future aspiration is to get to zero waste in the market, while at the same time using innovation and technology to eradicate poverty, tangibly changing the local area environment by making products to improve the community. To achieve this, they want to find partners who will help with start-up capital enabling them to upscale their fledgling enterprise.

What next?

There is SO much potential here, with plenty of motivation, enthusiasm, energy, knowledge and skill to move forward. The group is eagerly seeking investment to enable them to develop simple machinery and basic infrastructure along with tailored business skills, food safety and marketing skills training. They want to expand within their market and then replicate the operations in markets all across the city. Perhaps in time, they could become either one or an inter-related set of self-sustaining businesses, possibly operating as a co-op. BUT…. They need to find partners who will invest in and co-work to help them get off the ground. While NGO support is good, the Korogocho Food Waste Management Champions need to attract, ideally local, ethical business partners who fully understand their social entrepreneur world, respect their achievements and innovative creativity and are willing to invest in and support them to develop and fly.  This is the type of business that could make a difference on the ground, given the opportunity, to play a critical role in making food systems more sustainable and resilient but also addressing issues of food insecurity and hunger at the same time. How might these young entrepreneurs secure ethical private-sector partnerships? It would make so much sense to firmly anchor these operations and benefits for the local community within the local economy itself. To ensure genuine enterprise ownership, direction, autonomy and control for these talented young people, perhaps the citizens of Nairobi could themselves provide investment by buying products in advance, using an approach like community asset vouchers that are aligned to a local circular economy business model.

About the authors

Joy Carey is Senior Programme Associate of RUAF Global Partnership on sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food systems, and an independent consultant on city region food system strategy development and monitoring, based in Bristol, UK.  She has worked with urban, organic and local food sectors since 1990, is author of the baseline audit report, ‘Who Feeds Bristol’ (2011) and the MUFPP practical handbook for monitoring city food strategies (2021). She has also developed related monitoring frameworks for FAO & RUAF’s City Region Food System (CRFS) programme and for FAO’s Green City Initiative.

 Samuel Ikua Thiong’o is the Project Coordinator at Mazingira Institute, Nairobi. He is the recipient of the BBC Food Chain Global Youth Champion Award 2022, under the BBC Food and Farming Awards and is passionate about promoting the resilience of urban food systems.

Share this to :