Central Province is the 6th largest province in Kenya and is made up of 5 counties namely; Kiambu county, Kirinyaga county, Muranga county, Nyandarua county and Nyeri county. Nyeri town, situated in a narrow corridor between the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, is the provincial headquarters and has had a slow growth. As an urban centre, the site is corrugated, as it lies over a maturely dissected terrain which thus poses considerable transport difficulties.
This is ameliorated by a rich hinterland which the town serves well. Traditionally, it has enjoyed fame largely through its location en-route to the 'Northern Frontier District' and to mount Kenya and the subsequent chain of tourist lodges - Mount Kenya Safari Club, Tree Tops and the well-known Outspan Hotel which has served the town so well for so many years. The highlands in central province provide excellent growing conditions for many types of crops.
This is mainly due to the great abundance of fertile volcanic soil that originated from the then active Mount Kenya. The area is well watered and the cool temperatures make the area very productive in food crops. There are few rivers in Kenya, though most of them originate from the central highlands. These rivers tend to be small to medium in volume and width because they drop from higher altitudes to the sea very quickly. Nevertheless, some of these can be used to produce electricity.
There are several hydroelectric schemes that have been realised along the Tana River. The Tana river in essence originates from Mount Kenya and flows east towards the sea. Central Province is also home to many hard working small-holder farming communities and large agricultural estates. Mornings are often bitterly cold at high altitudes and cattle are usually milked during these early hours. Amongst farming families, children usually fetch water from a stream, spring or tap some distance away.
The small family farms are scattered all over the countryside, so most children are required to walk long distances to school, sometimes more than five kilometres. Some children walk all the way home for a hot lunch, and then all the way back to school. The home compounds or shambas as they are termed in Kiswahili, are fenced by a live hedge. The house and sheds are round or square, with roofs of thatch or iron sheets. Farm animals kept at such shambas include dairy cows, a few goats, sheep or donkeys, a flock of chicken and a guard dog.
Family farms are usually self-contained and provide families with most of their day-to-day needs. Cash crops, such as coffee, are sold for export and earn money for families to buy school books, amongst other things. Food crops, such as maize, bananas and potatoes, are grown for family meals or sold locally. A clump of trees, including the sweet smelling eucalyptus provide firewood for cooking and for heating the house.
Many small farmers have market gardens where they grow vegetables for the market. Most of the work on family farms in Central Province is done manually, while only large estate farms producing cash crops are mechanised using tractors. Farm activities include planting, weeding, harvesting and plucking tea leaves or coffee berries, or digging potatoes and picking maize. This is done by the farmers themselves and their families.
Food for a highland family in Central Province comes from a variety of plants, with a little meat and milk. This is quite different from the diet of a pastoral family in the grasslands who mostly consume milk and meat, with a few fruits or vegetables.