In the dry season, Juja is hot, windy and dusty. Vegetation is completely brown, and the sun beats down overhead during the annual drought from December to March. But step inside the Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart's greenhouses and life is very different. The fresh smell of vegetables replaces the dust outside. Mouthwatering tomatoes, healthy and red, hang on the branches, while outside, plants wither and die. It is so green and cool in the greenhouses that you quickly forget about the scorching sun.
In Kenya, farmers have traditionally chosen not to farm arid and semiarid lands like those in Juja, a town in the Nairobi metropolitan area, due to the difficulties in raising crops. But religious sisters are proving that, with some initial financial support, the nation can be fed by farming the less popular land.
The key is the greenhouse, where sisters can control a harsh environment to grow high-yield crops on a small footprint of land.
These sisters are using innovative farming methods to combat poverty and to create jobs for struggling youth, by planting vegetables atop land previously considered dry and infertile. The sisters prefer using the greenhouses because they can reduce the sharp variation of outdoor temperatures, control rainfall and keep the plants safe from the devastation of insects, rodents and other animals in the wild.
By using greenhouses, the Dimesse Sisters (Daughters of Mary Immaculate) in a Nairobi suburb and the Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Juja are now able to produce vegetables for both income generation and food consumption in their communities. They share this farming knowledge and skill with the children in their care, the novices who will become future leaders, and the community members surrounding their convents.