1,000 Women’s Gardens

1,000 Women’s Gardens

1,000 Women’s Gardens for Nutrition and Health

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.

Establishing sustainable gardens is a low-cost and effective way to increase family vegetable and fruit consumption and empower women to generate and spend income on family needs – mainly food, medicine, and school fees. This project brings together the skills of RCRA staff in health and nutrition, Mountains of the Moon University students in agroecology (MMU in nearby Fort Portal) students), and the local knowledge of village and small-town women to establish and manage agroecological home and community vegetable gardens.

Over the course of five years (2020-2025), the project will significantly improve the dietary diversity, nutrition, health and welfare of 1,000 economically and nutritionally vulnerable families in Kasese District. 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 resilence to present and future crises associated with climate change impacts on food production, and mitigates these impacts through planting of trees and sequestering carbon in composted soils.

In 2019, students from the 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.

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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.

100 Gardens Established

The first phase of 1,000 Women’s Gardens was completed in May 2021 with 100 household vegetable nurseries established and successfully transplanted into ‘mother’ gardens in the sub-counties of Maliba, Kyabarungira, Bwesumbu, Hima and Mubuku.
In addition, eight community gardens, averaging eight women members, have been sown collectively on land provided by one group member. Adding up, the project is already benefitting more than 150 families and close to 1,000 individuals. The main vegetables sown (selected by seed availability, marketability, and nutritional value) are: local spinach (dodo), sukuma wiki (kale), pumpkin, tomatoes, cabbage, onions and eggplant.

All along the way, these women gardeners are supported and trained by the lead project coordinator and agronomist, Doreen Kansiime, with two part-time assistants, and the facilitative support of the RCRA Executive Director and the Senior Technical Advisor. Ms. Kansiime recently completed an intensive horticulture course from Wageningen University. In addition to individual visits to distribute inputs (e.g. seeds, watering cans, liquid neem) and support establishing and monitoring the vegetable nurseries and gardens, Doreen conducts group trainings on key topics:  raised beds, composting and mulching, and pest and disease management.

The picture above shows gardeners after receiving their garden materials / watering cans and handsprayers.
The picture above shows the Horticulture Officer providing hands-on training on managing pests and disease to some of the phase1 beneficiaries
Ms. Kansiime (Horticulture Officer) is training phase1 beneficiary on mulching with local materials (banana leaves)
The photo above shows a tomato community garden
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Women are beginning to harvest their first garden crops for home consumption and sale, such as the cabbages and tomatoes seen in the photos above, as well as year-round dodo and sukuma wiki. In September- October of 2021, we will begin conducting short surveys to learn systematically about changes in family vegetable consumption, especially among children and pregnant and lactating mothers, as well as income generated from garden sales, and uses of the money. We will then have a better handle on the full range of health and welfare gains for gardening families, including improved knowledge, self-confidence, and opportunities for peer socialization. Men are joining women in some of the trainings, which bodes well for sustained participation by women and reduced domestic tensions arising from lack of money and food insecurity.

RCRA Office Sack Garden

Ms. Kansiime 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).

Looking Forward: Phase 2 and Beyond

Collectively, we are generating great enthusiasm and buy-in for 1,000 Women's Gardens from women gardeners, local government, MMU, and RCRA staff and supporters employing a partnership model.; This support is crucial as we begin the 2nd and future phases toward our goal of 1,000 household gardens and nearly 80 community gardens established and thriving. For the 2nd phase, the focus will be on three sub-groups: 1) grandmothers rearing grandchildren; 2) young single mothers (ages 13-19), and 3) households with members living with HIV/AIDS. Among the community gardens, one will be with a primary school – to assist with school feeding, and four will be with teenage mothers in great need of training and peer socialization to break their isolation, poverty, and societal stigma.

Phase 2 updates

Garden coordinator, Doreen, and MMU intern, Benjamin, guide young mothers on how to sow eggplant seeds in the nursery bed

Doreen and RCRA staff are finishing transplanting seedlings at the office sack garden

MMU interns Benjamin and Wycliff guide a young mother in Kyabarungira on tomato seedling pruning, and they encourage her to remove shade structure to harden the seedlings.

Doreen, garden coordinator, guides young mothers in Kyabarungira on how to sow tomato seeds.

Doreen and the MMU interns guide gardeners in Mubuku how to transplant tomatoes into the Mother Garden. So excited that transplanning has begun!

Doreen encourages gardeners to pick out all of the weeds from the seedlings before transplanting to reduce disease and pests.

Doreen is getting hold of the hoe herself to encourage gardeners how to till their soil and weed the garden

MMU Interns

In July 2021, Doreen and her assistants at RCRA started working with two Mountains of the Moon University (MMU) student interns from the School of Agriculture and Environment. Their duties are to: 1) visit all Phase 1 gardens to conduct short surveys on garden progress and challenges, and provide technical assistance, particularly on soil fertility and pest management problems; and 2) assist Ms. Kansiime in initial establishment of phase 2. We hope to have MMU interns every year, establishing a strong partnership with the university over time.

Financial Support

Since 1,000 Women’s Gardens was constituted in September 2020, the project has raised over US $50,000 from more than 150 donors using the Global Giving platform. Future fundraising will continue with Global Giving and expand to foundation and private sponsors as opportunities arise. The project's cost-effective partnership model can be adapted for replication and scaling-up throughout Uganda.