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30 November 2023

Youth activists, and artists to improve urban livelihoods through agriculture

In this interview, Charles Lukania introduces us to the various initiatives of the Swedish foundation Voices4Change. #Growth4Change unites change makers to ghetto engineer innovative solutions for urban transformation. It operates in low income urban and peri-urban areas and informal communities in Nairobi, Kenya.  #FoodisPolitics is a campaign for food justice amplifying universal efforts for fair and sustainable food systems. It engages youth activists and artists through creatives means such as conscious rap and community theatre.



This interview is part of SIANI’s ‘Tune in to Food Systems’ interview series composed of monthly interview articles with experts across fields dedicated to sustainable food systems.

  • Can you tell us about the urban agriculture project (Hydroponics) you created in Dandora?

We created the Growth4Change initiative to unite change makers and engineer innovative solutions for urban areas, leading to transformation of the urban landscape. Through this initiative, we started hydroponics farming, thanks to the contribution of a board member of Voice4Changes named Erik from Sweden and his company, Ljusgårda, doing indoor farming. He shared his knowledge, so we set up a system in Korogocho, Dandora, and now scaled up to Baba Dogo, Mathare, and other informal settlements.

The reason we promote hydroponics is that it allows growing a lot in a small piece of land. We can recirculate water 100% and avoid using soil by employing pumice and sometimes Coco pit as growing media. These materials can be locally sourced, which aligns with the ideology of ghetto engineering. We are repurposing waste to create urban gardens, enabling people to feed their families and sell the excess produce to their neighbours or local markets.

It is possible that there are solutions available to address certain issues in our communities, but they may not have been properly implemented yet. Through Growth4Change, we aim to collaborate with researchers, businesses, industry players, and NGOs who have resources and expertise to create innovative solutions. We will work together to design and develop effective solutions that can make a positive impact in our communities.

Photo by Growth4Change

  • What are your plans for the next few years?

We are based in Nairobi and are planning to work in other cities in 2024. We aim to create a community where people can have a peer-to-peer exchange of ideas and knowledge. Our role will primarily facilitate this exchange by bringing viable innovations and successful sustainable practices to these communities. We also aim to link them with markets and resources. We welcome people with the necessary knowledge to come and introduce us to groups they believe we could collaborate with.

  • How important is the ecological mentality of young people at the time of employment?

We have a challenge where most young people in Kenya are facing unemployment, and that is why most young people are coming up with innovative ways to come with ways they can work to protect the environment at the same time see how they can earn from their environment.

Most communities we work with have formed ecological justice movements and networks. In their communities, they are advocating for protecting the environment, which is crucial for obtaining the necessary resources to run the business and maintain a high quality of life.

But in terms of employment and ecology, more support is needed to prepare young people for the labour market and to understand sustainability holistically.

So, young people need more knowledge to understand sustainability issues in a holistic environment, including social and governance aspects.

  • How is Voices4change contributing to the food security and economic empowerment of youth and women living in the slums of Nairobi?

Voice4Change has been more of like providing to amplify the voices of the people in their communities, to be heard by the people of authority, the people with power.

We have developed several campaigns, one called “Food is Politics”. This campaign aims to spark discussions about the politics of food and generate creative ideas to engage young people through music. We collaborated with rappers from Nairobi’s informal settlements to create music that highlights food justice.

We have organized a “Food for Thought” round table series, inviting specialists from different fields, and mobilizing young people at the grassroots level to join. During these events, participants share knowledge, and get the opportunity to put what they learn into practice.

As Voice4Change, we also work on initiatives such as the foodies’ activist toolkit. This toolkit will contain simple tactics for people to adopt and implement in small spaces to improve their nutrition and increase productivity. We will make this toolkit accessible, especially to those who have limited access to information.

Photo by Growth4Change

  • What programmes do you have at the moment that can help young people understand the importance of sustainable food consumption and production?

 We have been working with artists to raise awareness about food justice issues and to facilitate communication with young people. Additionally, we have been working on building ecosystems by collaborating with organized groups within different communities, focusing on the passions of those communities.

We collaborate with these communities to enhance their skills and knowledge, so they become proficient and can train other groups, and we can either remunerate them or help them find someone who will compensate them for their work. This is how we develop an ecosystem. The best part is that they can learn from each other. Due to our limited budget and staff, we don’t have a flagship programme. Instead, we focus on making a significant impact and identifying areas where we can get involved and into action.

  • To what extent are partners and founders interested in investing in educational programs for young individuals?

 Accessing resources for training and education is a very challenging. It is an ongoing process, and many actors tend to focus on more tangible issues. Most actors that offer training on the ground lack the necessary funding to support practical implementation. Young people in informal settlements express frustration because they are trained but receive little concrete support to walk through the process. There is a disconnect between training and support, and the training itself needs to be more needs-based. It is important to identify the specific needs of the community and design training programmes that are tailored to those needs.

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