Feature: Kenyan artists find alternative sources of income amid COVID-19 disruptions

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NAIROBI, June 11 (Xinhua) -- A column of five garden bags each teeming with spinach and an array of indigenous vegetables occupies the backyard of Hassani Oyo's house in Nairobi's Buruburu suburb.

Vertical bag gardening has become Oyo's new source of income after the entertainment industry in Kenya experienced a lull thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oyo eked out a living playing drum sets to a live audience before a global directive to the social distance to tame the COVID-19 pandemic came into place. He has since shifted his focus to bag gardening to ensure his family is food secure.

The entertainment sector in Kenya and across the world has been dealt a huge blow with artists being compelled to re-strategize to weather the storm.

"My friend introduced me to this method of farming last year but I was too occupied with my music career. However, when live shows became elusive, I decided to venture into it so that I can continue feeding my family," Oyo told Xinhua in an interview.

Bag gardening is preferred by urban residents because it requires minimum space to farm in cities dotted with commercial and residential buildings. Ideally, sukuma wiki (kales) spinach and coriander are the most preferred vegetables to cultivate.

The artist-turned-farmer said this method of farming is inexpensive, adding that he uses only 20 liters of water per week on each bag. He sells his produce to local vegetable vendors as well as his neighbors.

"One bag costs 1,000 shillings (around 10 U.S. dollars) and it can last for ten years when properly handled. I use inorganic manure which is affordable. In addition to that, the seedlings are cultivated in my nursery. One bag brings in an estimated eight U.S dollars per week," said Oyo.

"The profits from this business have cushioned my family in these uncertain times, moreover I am in control of the inputs going into my vegetables," he added.

Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture last month launched a national kitchen vegetable garden campaign, targeting a million households.

"The government is launching a campaign to establish kitchen vegetable gardens, we have issued guidelines to support both rural and urban dwellers with technologies for setting up within the resources available," said Anne Nyagah, Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture.

Oyo who is an accomplished instrumentalist says that his love for music is unwavering and he hopes he will soon be able to play but as for now his car garage continues to house his drum set.

On the other side of Nairobi city, another artist has revised her business approach and started making homemade masks that she sells from her car.

Carol Muchai, a professional disk jockey (DJ) has altered her source of income to counter the adverse effects of COVID-19.

"This is a short-term solution for me so that I do not go to bed hungry because right now clubs are closed and there are no live shows. I am upbeat things will look up in the near future so that I can go back to my passion," said Muchai.

On the flip side, some artists and performers have continued to rely on their art to meet their livelihoods.

Wesley Nyagaka, a guitarist has continued to earn a living through music despite huge bottlenecks standing in his way.

He has become content with streamed performances from the comfort of his house.

Nyagaka said that he has been challenged to put out a lively performance without relying on flashy lights and elaborate sound systems. He is cognizant that a streamed show will not give the same feel like a live performance but he is happy because he can still entertain.

"The digital space is not an adequate replacement for live shows but I am still making money to keep myself afloat. My audience sends me their contribution through mobile money," said Nyagaka.

President Uhuru Kenyatta recently came to the rescue of artists and musicians by unveiling one million dollars to cushion them from the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the entertainment industry.

"I direct the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage to avail one million U.S. dollars from the Sports Fund to our artists, actors and musicians during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic so they may continue to entertain their fellow brothers and sisters through TV, radio and the internet," said Kenyatta. Enditem

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