My First Visit to Kenya: People, Coffee, and Urban Agriculture

Sometimes life goes so fast that it’s difficult to keep up! This is essentially what has been the case for me since last time I wrote. I will spare you a tedious recap, although I might write now and then about things that I have done in this period, because a few of them have been quite interesting. But for now, I’ll remain in the present because enough is happening in he next two weeks to hopefully keep your interest up. Just like last June, I’m on a multi-country trip, visiting four countries in Africa this time, and three of which are new to me. So it should be an interesting trip this time!
My first stop was in Nairobi, where I’ve spent these past two days. I wish I could say that I visited the national park in the middle of the city, which Nairobians are very proud of, or that I went to a coffee roaster, or took a sightseeing tour. Or even went on a local bus! But no – I did none of that! After I arrived on Saturday around midnight, I stayed at the hotel all Sunday together with a colleague, preparing for a very busy week with a full agenda in three countries. And today, we’ve have had back to back meetings in between which I’ve tried to catch some impression of the city life through the backseatof a car window. Our main tourist stop was at The Junction (a shopping mall) where we picked up a cup of coffee at local coffee chain the Dormans, and I walked out with some very fashionable pieces of Kenyan garment. 

As for agriculture, I was happy to see that fallow urban land in the middle of the city had been organized into small garden lots, so urban agriculture in other words! Whether this was mainly for household consumption, or for any commercial activity, I wasn’t able to see, but it was enough to make me feel inspired and confirm my conviction that agriculture can be an integrated part of the urban space in any city. Otherwise, I had lots and lots of delicious Kenyan coffee, which also proved very effective in curing jet-lags! 

View over Nairobi’s skyline from mmy hotel room // Sunday work location at the hotel – kind of ok! 🙂 // fruitfilled brekfast with fresh sqeezed mango juice and favorite mini bananas // rose decoration in the bathroom // an attempt to capture street food stand from a moving car // Kenyan coffee! Last but not least: Furahiya chakula chako – enjoy your meal (Swahili)

I definitely hope that I get to go back and see more one day because Kenya such a fascinating and beautiful country! Even just driving around town gave a glimpse of richness of the flora, which many Kenyans also seem to cherish and I saw ample of roadside stands with pots and plants, and even cut flowers (no doubt from their very successful cut flower export industry) in a way that I have not seen in any other country as far as I can recall, except possibly England. I also had a chance to meet quite a mix of people in the short time that I was there, and Nairobi (and probably Kenya as a whole) is such a melting pot with people from all over the world, from those who came with past intercontinental trade routs and during the colonial era, to migrants from all over Africa, and with the Chinese investors and company employees being the latest addition to Nairobi’s population. A true cosmopolitan city in other word! But, alas, my curiosity over Kenyan culture and Nairobi’s urban agriculture will have to be kept in check for the moment as I am now on the flight to Gaborone, Botswana, which is the next stop on my itinerary. 

Three Reports on Food and Agriculture in the World

As I wrote in my previous post (and in a few others these past months…), I’m in the middle of my dissertation writing. One of the best thing about doing this is all the reading that I get to do. I have come across so much interesting literature and I wanted to share three very good reports with those of you who are interested in better understanding where our agro-food systems come from, where we are today, and where we are heading vs. where we need to go.

The State of Food and Agricuture 2000: The 2000 issue of FAO’s annual report SOFA gives a good summary of the growth of global agriculture in the 20th, which only over a fee decades multiplied yields and grew beyond that of population. The report is surprisingly silent on the agricultural policies that to a large extent drove this growth but also distorted markets, but if keeping this in mind, it explains well what impact modernization of agriculture had on those who couldn’t keep up in quantity focused production systems.

Food and Agriculture: The fiture of Sustainability is a new study published by the UN that gives a good overview of the environmental impacts from the agro-food systems that we developed in the 20th century and why they are not sustainable. The study also suggests alternative paths for future food systems in order to cope with an increasing population, climate change, and nutritious diets.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012: This year’s issue of FAO’s annual publication SOFI gives a good overview of the changes in diets that are taking place all over the world, or the nutrition transition as it is called. (This is also the topic of my dissertation.) This transition is partly good, i.e. the shift to more diversified diets is essential for food security in many parts of the world. However, many times, this also means diets that are higher in salt, sugars, and saturated fat, which has negative health implications. Similarly, the shift to more animal-sourced and often more processed foods has implications for the environment. It gives a good overview of where global food consumption is heading. It is up to you to determine if you think this is realistic or if we all need to make changes.

20121020-105841.jpgPumpkins again, this time from Whole Foods