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 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 been incorporated into RCRA’s 1,000 Women’s Gardens for Health and Nutrition, in-line with its goal to center support for vulnerable families in Kasese District around family nutritional and health needs, women’s empowerment and sustainable livelihoods.

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 resilience to present and future crises associated with climate change impacts on food production, and mitigates these impacts through planting of fruit and neem trees and sequestering carbon in composted soils.

In 2022, in order to meet the holistic needs of young mother gardeners, we will integrate a sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education and service component with the help of trained peer ASRH educators. This is an area of expertise for RCRA and can be sustained and expanded as we reach more young mothers in our garden work. Rather than be forever limited by their early pregnancies, these young mothers will have options to plan their families, continue their education, earn income with dignity, and feed their children healthy home-grown foods.

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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.

175 Gardens Established

The first and second phases of 1,000 Women’s Gardens are completed with 175 household vegetable nurseries established and successfully transplanted into ' mother' gardens in the sub-counties of Maliba, Kyabarungira, Bwesumbu, Hima and Mubuku. In addition, sixteen community gardens, averaging eight women members, have been sown collectively on land provided by one group member. Beginning in Phase 2, community garden recruitment has focused on young mothers ( see photos below), where adolescents can gather socially, bring their babies, learn to garden nutritious vegetables organically and earn income. By May 2022, we will integrate a sexual and reproductive health component as well. Adding up, the project is already benefitting more than 300 families and close to 1,800 individuals. With Phase 3, already in the transplanting phase, we will add another 75 home gardens and six community gardens. 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, 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. She 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, she conducts group trainings on such key topics as:  raised beds, composting and mulching, and pest and disease management.

Families are shown harvesting their garden crops for home consumption and sale such as the cabbages, tomatoes, Eggplants and pumpkins seen in the photos below, as well as year-round dodo and sukuma wiki. In September- October of 2022, 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 and garden work, which bodes well for sustained participation by women and reduced domestic tensions arising from lack of money and food insecurity in the household.

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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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Looking Forward: Phase 3 and Beyond

Collectively, we are generating great enthusiasm and buy-in for 1,000 Women's Gardens for Health and Nutrition - from women gardeners and their partners and children, local government, health clinics and schools, MMU faculty and students, and RCRA staff and supporters, employing a partnership model. This collective support is crucial as we enter the 3rd and future Phases toward our goal of 1,000 household gardens and 80 community gardens established and thriving.
In 2022, with new foundation and continued Global Giving support, we are integrating additional components to the project that will build resilience to climate change impacts on farming and family welfare. First, sourcing from local nurseries, we are distributing high quality seedlings of diverse fruit trees – orange, mango, tree tomato, papaya and jackfruit, and neem for botanical pesticides and medicines to all interested households, with training on maintenance. Second, for those households with serious water shortages, we are distributing simple water tanks for rainwater harvesting for maintenance of their gardens and trees during the dry season. Third, in April 2022, RCRA is organizing a Climate Change Awareness and Resilience Building workshop for village gardener leaders from five Kasese District sub-counties. Held in the local language, this interactive workshop will feature expert presenters from Mountains of the Moon, the District Department of Environment, RCRA and the 1,000 Women’s Gardens team. Fourth, part of household and community climate resilience is the capacity for women and couples to decide when to have children and how many children to have. The new adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) peer educator activity will greatly contribute to building this capacity.

A Growing Team

As a result of the generous support from individual donors, we have secured the funding to employ two graduates of the Mountains of the Moon School of Agriculture and Environment, as full-time team members. The team, two young male agronomists with female agronomist and project lead at the helm, shares two gas efficient motorcycles for transportation. In addition to nursery and mother garden establishment and training on organic methods, the MMU graduates have carried out two surveys with all of the gardeners, one on vegetable production progress and problems, and the second in preparation for fruit trees and water tank distribution.  At the end of 2022, the team will carry out a comprehensive garden impact study with support from the University of California, Berkeley.  

Financial Support

Since 1,000 Women’s Gardens for Health and Nutrition was constituted in September 2020, the project has raised over US $65,000 from more than 180 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.

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.”