Ecological Justice as a site of struggle

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When we began political mobilization for Saba Saba 2020, we thought constantly about merging theory with practice. Specifically, about the ways in which we can work collectively work towards communal living in small ways to strengthen oppressed communities to attain a socialist revolution. We began with political education and study with our comrades. The sessions at Bidii Youth Group were led by Comrade Maryanne Kasina, a member of Kayole Community Justice Centre and convener of the Women in Social Justice Centers. The sessions did not have a rigid structure of teacher – student, classroom – fieldwork. Why? For one, youth group spaces are the places of convergence or relaxation or work for the youth who are mostly either unemployed or casual laborers. This meant that more often than not, we had to take part in the activities that we found our comrades engaged in while we did the political education sessions. We learnt while we worked, we interrogated our surroundings and the conditions within which we were reproducing our lives. When the task was finished, we rested together. This collapsed the hierarchies that capitalist education orients us to learn within.

Food sovereignty

Two of the issues that we collectively worked to try and solve were food sovereignty and over-reliance on NGOs. In Kayole, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, H Pylori, cancer and arthritis are common diseases. We were able to link this to the high levels of processed foods and GMOs that we consumed. In Kayole, as with most informal settlements, the diet consists mostly of ugali, rice, sukuma wiki, potatoes and beans. All these foods have been modified to be highly acidic and grown with harmful pesticides that are banned in imperialist countries where they originate. The medical industrial complex is closely linked to agriculture. The food gives you the disease, and the hospital poisons you further in the name of ‘treatment’. The murderous merger of Monsanto and Bayer companies is a practical example of this. We also realized that most of us had little to no recollection of our indigenous food. I was tasked to create links with the Kenya Peasants League which does indigenous seed banking. I visited the Kangemi chapter which is organized by Comrade Cidi Otieno. He gave us indigenous seeds of kandira, mitoo, maize and beans. Later on, we got indigenous seeds of kunde from Ukambani through comrade Maryanne.

We then set out to work on the small piece of land communally owned by Bidii Youth Group. The land is a reclaimed dumpsite. We prepared the land for about two weeks, which mostly involved clearing the soil of the remnants of plastic pollution. The soil was rich and full of earth worms. We put the earthworms in a bucket to use as feed for the mud fish that our comrades at Bidii were rearing. We used mulch and the droppings from the turkey, geese, guinea fowl which is also reared within the space to make compost.

Our intention is to set up seed banking and urban farming project based on the principles of socialism, which is communal and collective work. We intend to use the first harvest to distribute seeds to other youth groups in the area where we have carried out political education. The plan is to have as many public spaces as possible reclaimed and turned into urban farms. The infiltration of indigenous, nutritious, healing and affordable food in our communities will reduce the market for the GMO food and reduce some of the diseases that are crippling our communities. Our immunity is in our gut and the sustainability of our communities lies in how intelligently we interact with nature.

Some of the challenges we have faced are:

  • Access to seeds – Our project began during the intercountry travel lockdown which limited the variety of seeds we could plant. We did not have the financial resources to facilitate the cost of transporting the seeds from the different chapters of Kenya Peasants League countrywide.
  • Access to land – The plot we were cultivating on was quite small. It would not even be big enough to plant enough food for ourselves. That is why we collectively saw it fit to begin the work of radicalizing other youth groups who are already caretakers of small plots of land to start planting indigenous foods. This way, we would have enough to feed ourselves and our community with a variety of foods.
  • Access to water– There is a serious shortage of water in Kayole that has been going on for over 20 years. The city council water department delivers fresh water to the residents once a week on Fridays, and sometimes it fails to do so. The water that is available the rest of the week is sold by water cartels that have sunk boreholes in different courts in the neighborhood. The water is salty and is contaminated with E. coli bacteria. It is unfit for consumption.
  • Access to farming tools and farming equipment – We did not have the financial resources to acquire proper tools such as jembes, spades, gumboots, overalls, gloves etc. This made the job more hazardous as we had to pick through the soil risking the danger of cut glass, metal and plastic waste. We used a metal rod and rake to dig and prepare the land.
  • Criminal profiling by the police – During the first week of preparation, plain clothed police officers raided the space claiming that we were engaged in illegal sale of marijuana. This put our work on hold for a few days. The raid by police reminded our comrades of the massacre of the Gaza Group by the police.

Our analysis of conditions in the area where we worked is as follows:

  • Food sovereignty is a class question. Access to nutritious and indigenous food is not a problem if you reside in the bourgeoisie neighborhoods such as Ngong, Lavington, Karen, Kilimani, Runda, and such other affluent neighborhoods. If one who lives in such areas does not have land to practice organic farming, they can always go to Zucchini or Chandarana supermarkets and buy this produce. The poor on the other hand, do not have the land to farm, rarely have access to life saving nutritional information and cannot afford to consistently eat indigenous food.
  • Capitalism commodifies every aspect of life. We saw this in the struggle to find clean drinking water. We saw this also in the way that Nairobi’s geography is segregated according to class. Our homes, the informal settlements, were dumping sites for the waste from the rich and middle class neighborhoods. Our soils and water were heavily polluted making farming difficult. To plant and nurture plants sometimes requires purchasing of red soil which is rich in nutrients. Good land for farming is expensive and outside our communities.
  • GMOs do not tackle the problem of food security, in fact, they make us more reliant on global capital and the money economy. This is because, in order to plant, one has to buy the seeds from Kenya seed Company or Agrovets, buy fertilizers and pesticides as well as the GMO seeds which do not respond to natural methods of pest control and fertilization. Moreover, the seeds harvested from the plant cannot be regrown, one has to buy seeds from the seed company each new season. The solution is therefore to go back to our indigenous farming methods.

Kayole Community Justice Centre, through the Ecological Justice Movement led by comrades Asuwa and Ruguru of Korogocho Peace and Justice Centre, is still keen on receiving support to expand the reach of indigenous urban farms in Kayole.

  • The author is a social justice activist in Mathare and a member of Ukombozi Library

By Lena Anyuolo

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