1,000 Women’s Gardens for Health and Nutrition

Introduction

In Kasese District, 85% of households make a living as subsistence farmers on degraded land and hunger and malnutrition are chronic issues. Over 40% of children 5-59 months old are stunted and 13% are wasted. Women are the main farmers of food but need support to improve crop diversity and productivity. Other rural and town women lack access to land but can garden collectively. Better nutrition is essential for improving the health status of children and school performance.

Collaborative research with the University of California, Berkeley and the local Mountains of the Moon University during May-August 2019 led to a published paper in the African Journal for Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Development.  The findings and recommendations from this study (see photo carousel below for sample infographics from the study) have guided the initiative 1,000 Women’s Gardens for Health and Nutrition, since its beginning in October 2020. Now, 1,000 Women's Gardens is a centerpiece of RCRA's integrated strategy linking nutrition and livelihoods with reproductive and general health.

Women managed gardens empower women to feed their families, earn income, reduce social isolation and domestic tension and, overtime, command more community respect. At the same time, 1,000 Women's Gardens builds resilience to present and future crises associated with climate change impacts on food production, and mitigates these impacts through planing of fruit and neem trees and sequestering carbon in composted soils.

Mission

Enabling women’s organic gardens as a gateway to food secure and climate resilient families in the Ruwenzori Region, Uganda.

Vision

We envision 1,000 thriving organic women’s gardens for health, nutrition and economically strengthened families in the Rwenzori Region by 2028.

Mid-Term Outcomes (by 2027)

  • Thriving organic gardens in 40% of the households within the villages where we work.
  • 80 community gardens with sustained access to land and water, of which 40 or more are for young mothers.
  • 80% or more of the young mothers we work with shall be able to access family planning knowledge and services as a result of ASRH gatherings, peer knowledge sharing, extension team advocacy, and RCRA mobilization.
  • ECOTRUST Carbon contracts serving 200 women farmers with estimated 60,000 trees, and all interested small farmers plant at least 10 trees for climate resilience in the service area.
  • Capable and committed team in place to implement, monitor, and assess project activities.
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In 2019, students from University of California, Berkeley and MMU teamed with RCRA to conduct research on the nutritional and welfare benefits of vegetable gardening in Kasese District, conducting surveys, an innovative card sorting game, a nutritional recall survey, key informant interviews and case stories with 50 randomly selected households.  Details of the study were published in the African Journal for Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Development.   The findings and recommendations from this study led to 1,000 Women’s Gardens for Health and Nutrition, in-line with the goal of RCRA to center its support for vulnerable families in Kasese District around sustainable livelihoods, women’s empowerment, and meeting family nutritional and health needs.

325 Women’s Organic Gardens Established

The fourth phase of 1,000 Women’s Gardens is completed with 325 household gardens established in the sub-counties of Maliba, Kyabarungira, Kitswamba, Hima and Mubuku. In addition, twenty six community gardens, averaging eight women members, have been sown collectively on public county land, rented land (in the case of townships) or land provided by one group member. Adding up, the project is already benefitting more than 500 families and close to 3,000 individuals. The main vegetables sown (selected by seed availability, marketability, and nutritional value) are: local spinach (dodo), sukuma wiki (kale), African eggplant and globe eggplant, pumpkin, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, and climbing beans.

All along the way, women gardeners are supported and trained by the lead project coordinator and agronomist, with two part-time assistants, and the facilitative support of the RCRA Executive Director and the Senior Technical Advisor. In addition to individual visits to distribute inputs (e.g. seeds, watering cans, liquid neem) and support monitoring the vegetable nurseries and gardens, she conducts group trainings on such key topics as: raised beds, composting and mulching, and pest and disease management.

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RCRA Office Sack and Box Garden

The 1,000 Garden's Team has set up a sack/container garden outside of the RCRA Office in Kasese Town for staff members to tend and enjoy, and for visitors to see what type of gardening can be done even in small spaces (see photos below).

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Building Climate Resilience

In April 2022, RCRA organized a Climate Change Awareness and Resilience Building workshop for village gardener leaders from five Kasese District sub-counties. Held in the local language, the interactive workshop featured presenters from Mountains of the Moon, the District Department of Environment, RCRA and the 1,000 Women’s Gardens team. Participants were identified and invited based on their leadership in organic gardening and community affairs. All 30 invitees attended (25 women, including 8 adolescent mothers, and 5 men) plus students, faculty and staff for a total of 40 participants.

Through expert presentations, experience-sharing, small group work and brainstorming, participants learned about the global and local causes of climate change and a variety of local actions – including organic vegetable gardening and tree planting, to mitigate negative impacts on their environment, livelihoods and family health. Most communities in Kasese District are already experiencing changes in the timing of first rains, irregular rainy seasons, and hotter temperatures. Before departing at the end of the day, participants committed to spreading their knowledge to neighbors in their villages.

Climate resilience activities that began in 2022, and will continue to grow in scope in 2023 and beyond include: distribution of high quality fruit and neem tree seedlings, sourced from local nurseries, to all interested households, with training on tree care; and distribution of simple water tanks for rainwater harvesting and water storage to help with garden and tree maintenance during the dry season.

A new initiative that addresses the needs and aspirations of the whole adolescent mother was started in September 2022. Young mothers gather, typically 15 – 20, in convenient locations near or in gardens, where babies are welcome, food is served, and adolescents enjoy a full day of interactive activities. At the end of the day, each young mother has had a chance to envision her future and discuss the steps to get there. She has met with a peer educator to discuss her particular SRH questions and needs. The group departs knowing they will meet again at the next garden workday or training.

Financial Support

Since 1,000 Women’s Gardens for Health and Nutrition was constituted in September 2020, the project has raised over US $85,000 from more than 200 donors using the GlobalGiving platform. In addition, in early 2022, the project received a $43,000 grant from a small private foundation for integrated programming on health, nutrition and climate resilience.  Future fundraising will continue with GlobalGiving and expand to other sponsors as opportunities arise. The project’s cost-effective partnership model has proved successful to date and can be adapted for replication and scaling-up throughout Uganda.

Looking Forward

Employing a community partnership model, 1,000 Women’s Gardens for Health and Nutrition is generating great enthusiasm and buy-in from women gardeners and their families, local government, health clinics and schools. The relationship with the local university – Mountains of the Moon (MMU), is strong and we expect more graduates to join the RCRA/1,000 Women’s Gardens team in the near future. A newly agreed collaboration with the well-respected environmental NGO, ECOTRUST, is a key element of our climate change/environment strategic area. This collective support is crucial as we complete Phase 4 and enter future phases toward our goal of 1,000 household gardens and 80 community gardens established and thriving.

Testimonials from Gardeners and their Families

I am from Kyabarungira Sub-County, Kasese District.I look after six children in my house.  How I came to know about the 1,000 Women’s Gardens, it was in March 2021, through Doreen. 

She came and told us how to plant seeds on raised beds, which I have already learned and I thank her very much.  I have learned another skill through her that is plant spacing, when I am planting my seedlings, I use a proper space, and we have also learned how to manage our plants. 

Through trainings, we have also improved on planting vegetables in our kitchen gardens.  So, we have reduced on buying vegetables from the market.  We are hoping to get seeds after the harvest, so we dry our seeds ready to plant for the next season. 

I’m a younger mother age 17 from Hima sub-county, Kasese District.  I dropped out of school getting pregnant and I was in senior 3.  Now I have a baby age 2 years. 

I came to know about 1,000 Women’s Gardens through Doreen and extension workers of RCRA.  I have learned good agronomic practices….planting on raised beds, proper spacing, and how to maintain a nursery bed. 

I have also learned that through kitchen gardening one can learn how to reduce expenditures on vegetables.  Through trainings, and with the help of the extension workers I’m hoping to harvest plenty and sell the surplus.  This will help me get some money to care and cater for my young baby.  I have learned to socialize and share with other young mothers; indeed, we share and get solutions to our challenges…especially on how to care for our children.  For this, I thank RCRA for their mobilization.

I live in Maliba sub-county.  I have 19 years and I’m having two children.  In order to take care of my children, I sometimes I go in people’s farms and dig for them to make money and buy them food. 

The little money that I earn is not enough to take care of me and my children, since their father cannot, and my parents cannot either.  In July 2021, Doreen, and extension workers with RCRA, came to our village to encourage the young mothers to go for kitchen gardening, so when they came to me, I looked into it and saw it was a good program for me.  From kitchen gardening I am hoping that I will be able to get food for my children, and the surplus I will take to the market and sell to buy medication for my children, clothing, and other basic needs.

Also, I am hoping that the money I may earn from the community garden might pay fees to learn a simple skill like tailoring which will help to raise my children in the years ahead.  

I am from Maliba sub-country.  My family is one of the beneficiaries of the 1,000 Gardens program that we got to know through my wife.  Before the program of kitchen gardening, in our household, I used to have violence with my wife because of not fulfilling the domestic needs of the family.  But after the garden, we have enough food in the locality to eat.  After the training from the extension workers, we no longer need to buy vegetables from the market like tomatoes, cabbages, sukuma wiki. Because of climate change that is a big problem within our area these days, I have planted mango, avocado and orange trees, and looking for mulches to mulch the gardens, and plant on raised beds, and tried to mix organic manure into the compost for the vegetables.  I’ve come to realize that working together as a family, the man and the woman in the kitchen gardening, is very important, it reduces fighting in families, and helps with raising up children who will take an example from us.

 Through my wife we are one of the beneficiaries of RCRA under 1,000 Women’s Gardens for Better Health and Nutrition.  Through this program, I have learned a lot.  It has added on my feeding, helped reduce our expenditures on food, and the surplus we sell and get some money. …We have also got some agricultural inputs like watering cans, seeds and hand sprayers.  So, on the training I have already got from the extension workers of RCRA I feel like it has helped us a lot.  In these activities of kitchen gardens, I as the leader of  the family have done a lot in helping the woman ….especially in the activities that are heavy like making raised beds, planting fruit trees, bananas, even mulching, even watering these kitchen gardens.  All these activities we are doing are conserving the environment and curbing climate change.  I am appreciating the extension workers who are training us.  We have seriously improved our livelihood especially on feeding and nutrition.”