A Crusader for Local Vegetables


Mary Abukutsa-Onyango has a passion for indigenous African vegetables. Mary is a Kenyan horticultural scientist and she knows what she is talking about. For many years local plants all over Africa have been pushed away and replaced by exotic plants like spinach or cabbage. The great majority of Kenyans think that those plants are native and better for health.

Mary, who is a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, has tried to reverse this trend and reintroduce the original plants in the food chain. Why?  Because they are richer in vital nutrients and micro-nutrients, with medicinal and other agronomic properties superior to exotic vegetables. They are also good for the family table and for generating income.  The species tested include cowpeas, vegetable amaranth, spider plant, African nightshade, jute mallow and the African kale.

So Mary is on a crusade to teach her fellow Africans and especially Kenyans. Over 60% of the rural communities in Western Kenya are poor, resulting in malnutrition and poor health among many rural households. She is fighting a tough battle because those indigenous vegetables are spurned by the well-fed as food only for the poor, and by the poor themselves as alternatives only in times of extreme hunger.

Finally, her efforts were recently met with success when  the spiderplant, African nightshade and vegetable amaranth, among others, started being sold in Nairobi supermarkets and restaurants. Moreover, last June, Mary won an award for her work.

Part of her success results from being one of a growing team of innovative scientists given fellowships by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), a fantastic program aimed at boosting the female talent pool supporting Africa’s women farmers.

But Mary soldiers on. A latest victory? Having the Kenyan Health Ministry advising hospitals to include African indigenous vegetables in the diet of HIV-positive patients.

Via irinnews.org – Picture by Mike Goldwater

A Miracle in the Toilets


David Kuria is a 37-year-old architect from Kenya. Already having a comfortable life working for the few wealthy Kenyans who could afford his services, he felt unsatisfied. He wanted to do more to help his community. David found his calling in an unlikely area: the toilets.

According to the Acumen Fund, only 48% of Kenya’s population has access to basic sanitation services. It has been more than 30 years since the government last invested in toilet facilities in Nairobi, one of the most densely populated informal settlements in the world. The few toilet units in low-income areas are beset by overcrowding, inaccessibility, as well as a general lack of privacy, hygiene and security.

Upon learning that women seeking privacy, would often pay a small fee to use a privately operated, unhygienic pit latrine, David saw an opportunity to build a business while helping his community. He founded Ikotoilet, a company which provides clean and secure sanitation services for a small fee. The company uses a Build-Operate-Transfer model of public-private partnership, entering into long-term contracts with municipalities to secure use of public lands.

David’s venture is now a real success. As an architect, he designed himself the facilities, which look like small restaurants, not toilets. An average of 1000 Kenyans use everyday each Ikotoilet because besides providing dignified and decent toilets, it also offers a range of services like showers, baby stations, phone booths, shoe shines and a small food shop. At the same time it creates jobs for urban youth.

David made a point to focus on sustainability especially with water which is now scarce in cities. That’s why each facility uses waterless urinals, low flush systems, rainwater harvesting and water saving taps to ensure optimal conservation. He is also keen on the potential for nutrient and energy recovery, harvesting urine and now exploring how to invest in conversion to ammonia. Also, biogas is generated from human waste and is used to light Ikotoilets.

His vision fulfilled David wanted to make sure expansion would not hurt the quality of service provided to the community. How could he guarantee the managers would keep each Ikotoilet spotless? David came up with very simple but effective idea: the office is located above or next to the toilets. No one would want to work or hold a meeting around stinking toilets. :)