Maureen Muketha: Improving Food Security with Vertical Gardens and Education
Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around Nairobi, Kenya with Maureen Muketha, the founder and Executive Director of Tule Vyema. Maureen is passionate about tackling UN SDG#2: Zero Hunger—let’s see how she’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome, Maureen, I’m excited to be here and have a chance to hear about your work! Can you tell me what challenges you are addressing through Tule Vyema?
Maureen: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! So, we are addressing several challenges. One is to combat the increased rate of non-communicable diseases, which account for over 50% of hospital admissions in Kenya. Next, we fight hunger, malnutrition, and poverty by raising awareness of proper feeding habits. We also work to improve food security in the community by equipping community members with nutrition knowledge. We do this by holding nutrition education talks, and training young women to cultivate indigenous vegetables on vertical farms. UN SDG #2 is our guiding goal.
Spiffy: I want to know more! What motivated you to address hunger and malnutrition?
Maureen: The area that I am from had the leading cases of malnutrition. I grew up seeing very emaciated women and children. The children were often too weak to play, and the mothers had to make hard decisions about which children would eat, and which ones would wait for the next available meal. I wanted to change this narrative and realized that “if change is to be it is up to me”. Studying nutrition and dietetics at university was the first step I took to change that narrative from a technical point of view.
Spiffy: How is Tule Vyema working to create a more equitable world?
Maureen: There are several ways we promote a more equitable world. One thing we do is equip community members with nutrition knowledge. Proper nutrition is often seen as an expensive lifestyle. However, through our education talks, we localize nutrition by promoting locally available foods. We also train young unemployed women of reproductive age to cultivate four varieties of indigenous vegetables on vertical farms. This helps to improve household food security and empowers them economically through the sales of surplus indigenous vegetables. Through this approach of nutrition knowledge sharing and training, women receive a continuous supply of indigenous vegetables and gain economic empowerment.
A member of Tule Vyema, harvesting indigenous vegetables to use for her family's dinner. (Image courtesy of Maureen Muketha)
Spiffy: Are there any milestones you’re particularly proud of?
Maureen: The greatest milestone thus far is winning over the pastoralist communities to appreciate the importance of cultivation and consumption of indigenous vegetables. Agriculture is not their main economic activity and many of them see vegetables as vegetation for their livestock. Working with the women in the Maa community has been a great learning experience. Tule Vyema has been able to partner with various organizations such as Scaling Up Nutrition—Kenyan Chapter to champion nutrition advocacy work. I have also received international recognition from Food Tank, Crop Life International, Voice of America, Global Citizen, and Global Changemakers.
Spiffy: I’m curious if you ever faced failure and persevered. What did you learn from that experience?
Maureen: When we first started off, we had not anticipated the vegetable seedlings would be a great meal for the birds! Most of the indigenous vegetables were all eaten by the birds. During project planning, we concentrated so much on intrinsic factors that we forgot other external factors. We learned that it is important to think about both intrinsic factors that could go wrong and extrinsic things—like the birds. We realized that—in the areas where the vertical farms are set up—the use of a shade net is vital to prevent the young soft seedlings from being attacked by birds.
Spiffy: Have you learned something unexpected from someone recently?
Maureen: Everyday is a building block to your desired dreams. There is nothing like a wasted day!
Spiffy: Before we sign off, Maureen, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Maureen: You are never too young to initiate change.
Spiffy: I agree completely, Maureen! Thanks so much for taking the time to inspire me and our young audience to go out and be the change in the world. It’s been an honor.
Maureen Muketha is the founder of Tule Vyema, a community organization based inNairobi, Kenya that works to eliminate malnutrition through education and training. Maureen is a nutritionist who is passionate about achieving Sustainable Development Goal #2. She is also a youth member of the UN Food System Summit Action Track 1 Leadership Team. (Nominated by One Young World. First published on the Ladderworks website on May 27, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.