Late last year, I was told of a newly discovered alternative use for mosquito nets that residents from a locality in Muranga, a district in Central Kenya, have embraced. My informant called it the green house phenomena. I wanted to see the “green houses” for myself before saying much about them. Last weekend I set out to see what that was all about.
I arrived at Location 20 in Muranga on the second day of 2011 at noon; it’s a two hours drive from Nairobi. The man who invited me here is a resident clinical officer at the local dispensary and a high school colleague. He is the one who saw the green houses and informed me about it.
He goes on to tell me the people here depend on farming. They rely entirely on the food they grow and sell the surplus. He leads me down the valley where there is a river. The sight below is of a river bank bursting with farming activity. From a distance I can see a stretch of green material along the riverbank.
It is only after we get nearer that I notice the green material I had seen earlier were indeed mosquito nets. The nets have been used to cover up nursery beds for carrots, onions, kales etc. One of the farmers tells me the nets play two key roles, to ward off birds that destroy the nurseries and to provide shade. He tells me they get the nets from the local dispensary.
In its efforts to fight malaria the Kenya government issues free mosquito nets to all children under five and pregnant mothers. The nets issued by the government are usually green in color hence the “green house” term. A woman with a baby on her back watering her nursery laments, “I would rather my children contract malaria on a full stomach than die of hunger”. “If I don’t cover my nursery I loose these crops which are my livelihood.” She adds. In a nearby home I notice that the same mosquito net has been used to construct a structure meant for rearing chicks. The owner tells me he uses the net to prevent hawks from snatching the chicks.
The clinical officer tells me they decided to probe the “green houses” when they noticed an increased number of residents with children under five years coming for the free nets. They had issued them for a month before they got wind of what was going on down the valley. His greatest worry is that the “green house” phenomenon has already begun spreading to other parts of the district. This is just one of the many alternative uses that mosquito nets have been put to, from fishing nets, to improvised wedding gowns.
This is happening at a time when the government has just fished out a cartel that has for long been diverting free malaria drugs and selling them to pharmacies in Nairobi. I left location 20 wondering if malaria elimination in Africa is possible by 2015 when challenges such as poverty and corruption keep glaring their heads every now and then.