Ghetto Farmers: The Youth Restoring Nairobi River

Humphrey Omukuti stands under the cover of bamboo trees he planted along Nairobi River in Mathare   
Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache
Humphrey Omukuti stands under the cover of bamboo trees he planted along Nairobi River in Mathare
Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache.

Story by Jayne Mache

Nairobi River, which hails from Ondiri Swamp in Kikuyu, Kiambu County, has for generations been a source of water, food, and livelihood for the people who have found refuge along its banks. The river, which meanders as it makes its way through Nairobi City, has been a constant and dominant feature of the city’s life. Now its lifeforce is being threatened by pollution.

As it stands, the Nairobi River is being choked by tons of plastic, sewer and chemical waste that have been dumped into its flowing waters. The once clear waters have turned a dark and murky greyish color, spotted with floating pieces of plastic. In some areas, the flow of water has completely stopped as the river fights against the current of heaps of refuse that now lie on its riverbed.

Residents of Mathare scavenge for scraps to sell on a heap of waste on Nairobi River.
Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache
Residents of Mathare scavenge for scraps to sell on a heap of waste on Nairobi River.
Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache.

For Humphrey Omukuti, a resident of Mathare, an informal settlement along the Nairobi River, the pollution is an unfortunate resource degradation that breaks his heart. Mathare sits along the lower course banks of Nairobi River. And this is where most of the waste from its waters is deposited as the river comes to a slow stop in its late stages. As a result, the waters there are heavily polluted.

“When we were younger, we used to drink water straight from the river. We used to catch fish and people earned a living from this river. We chewed and sold sugarcane farmed here – the proceeds paying our school fees.” Humphrey said, throwing his hand in the air in dismay. 

However, all hope is not lost for the people of Mathare. Humphrey is one of many young people who believe Nairobi River can be cleaned and rehabilitated to its former glory. He and other Mathare youths established Ghetto Farmers, which seeks to empower young people through small-scale farming projects along Nairobi River. Most importantly, Ghetto Farmers aim to lead the rehabilitation of Nairobi River itself.

Humphrey Omukuti stands under the cover of bamboo trees he planted along Nairobi River in Mathare. Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache
Humphrey Omukuti stands under the cover of bamboo trees he planted along Nairobi River in Mathare. Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache.

“We can undo this mess!” Humphrey exclaims, “The River Thames was once as dirty as the Nairobi River or worse, is now a tourist attraction with the majestic London Bridge towering over it. It was through efforts of the people and the U.K. Government that cleaned it up and turned it into the icon it is today. No rubbish. No stench. Just clean water.

Since 2006, Humphrey has been planting trees along the Nairobi River and around Mathare. His tree of choice being the famous Bamboo tree which is well known for its fast growing and water purification properties. In areas where Ghetto farmers have planted trees, residents are greeted by the soft, cool breeze as the trees sway to and fro in the wind. At other spaces, local workers sit under the shade, hiding away from the sun’s harsh gaze, conversing with each other.

Local workers sit under trees planted by Ghetto Farmers.
Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache.
Local workers sit under trees planted by Ghetto Farmers.
Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache.

“It’s nice to have spaces like this,” he explains as he walks in between the trees. “We need to plant more trees. For us, this is home and it’s where our families and children live. We must restore the Nairobi River. We must give it life again.”

Ghetto Farmers are working towards cleaning up the Nairobi River, but this is not an easy feat for the small group of about 20 members. In order to see impactful change, all stakeholders, including the government, national and international organizations, and friends must join hands with the people of Mathare for impactful change to be achieved. For the people of Mathare, restoring the dying river to its former honor; bustling with fishermen, women fetching drinking water, and children playing in the puddles along its banks is but a dream. It can be done, and it must be done.

Section of Nairobi River in Mathare heavily polluted with plastic and sewage waste.                                
Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache
Section of Nairobi River in Mathare heavily polluted with plastic and sewage waste.
Photo: Kipepeo Green Heritage/ Jayne Mache.

2 Comments

  1. That’s a great piece Jayne, so inspiring and moving, such stories need to be told in order to inspire environmental conservation…

    1. Thank you so much. I was truly inspired by the wonderful work Ghetto Farmers is doing.I hope more and more people read their story and join their cause to rehabilitate Nairobi River and plant trees in Mathare.

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