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Innovation of the week: Cultivating health, community and solidarity

GardenAfrica, a non-profit organization in southern Africa that helps families and communities establish organic gardens in small private plots, schools, hospitals and other public areas, prefers that its work be described as solidarity rather than charity. “Charity is all too often about externally imposed solutions, solidarity is a partnership of equals,” says its website.

Futhi Fakudzi stands in one of the gardens she uses to feed her family of 17. (Photo credit: GardenAfrica)Futhi Fakudzi stands in one of the gardens she uses to feed her family of 17. (Photo credit: GardenAfrica)

Working with farmers in both rural and urban areas in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa, GardenAfrica provides training and materials to improve food production as well as to help preserve local biodiversity, soil quality, and water conservation. The organization works closely with farmers to help develop “garden plans” that will best suit the natural resources available, as well as the dietary and medicinal needs of the farmers and their families.

Throughout much of southern Africa, high food prices have limited what is actually available to eat for families living on less than USD$1.25 per day. Many families are forced people to make do with one or two staple crops, like maize or cassava. But without critical vitamins and minerals, families are at greater risk for illness and disease, such as stunted growth and development and osteoporosis. To fight these problems, GardenAfrica emphasizes the medicinal and nutritional value of various local vegetable varieties, encouraging farmers to plant a diverse range of plants in order to provide year-round harvests and improve nutritional value of each harvest.

Once a family is producing food enough food to take care of their own needs–the average garden is cultivated on a plot that is only 100 square meters in size—the organization helps establish that family as a source of information, guidance and support for other members of the community.

In Swaziland, a farmer named Futhi Fakudze was caring for a house full of 17 people. With 11 children and six adults to feed, Futhi was spending 250 Swazi Lilangeni—or about USD$30.00—per month on groceries. But a year ago she participated in a training session with GardenAfrica in Swaziland and learned how to better take advantage of the natural resources available to her in order to improve her soil and her yields. Now she is able to produce almost all of her household’s monthly dietary needs in her small backyard. And she has even started another project garden in a separate 200 square meter plot where she is growing peppers, tomatoes, leaks, chard, spinach, beets, lettuce, carrots, and mango.

And beyond just taking care of her own family, Futhi is also helping the rest of her community learn from her training. After passing her new knowledge on to her husband, who helps her take care of the two garden plots, Futhi is also working with 6 of her neighbors who regularly stop by to help out and learn from her new “garden plan.” Soon enough they will have their own garden plans with which to grow their own food and share with the rest of the community.

To learn more about farming techniques that improve production and diets as well as soil quality, water conservation and biodiversity, see: Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local, Honoring the Farmers that Nourish their Communities and the Planet, and Investing in Projects that Protect Both Agriculture and Wildlife.

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