Nutrition, Food Security, & Home Gardens

Nutrition, Food Security, & Home Gardens
April 2010 Newsletter


April News:

This Month’s Online Courses

We are offering our course ‘From the Ground Up’ again in May; participants from 56 countries are now enrolled in March’s classes. See what past students have said. ‘From the Ground up’ and ‘Project Architecture‘ are available in English and in Spanish.

New Online Learning Summer/Fall Catalogue
Our catalogue includes our Foundation Courses as well as courses in Sustainability and Impact Analysis, and courses on Development Tools that Work.

March Workshop in Guatemala
In March, we facilitated a four-day, project and proposal development workshop in Spanish for the Central American Country Directors of US based Ecologic Development Fund. Ecologic works with poor, rural communities to conserve and restore forests, watersheds and wetlands in ways that improve people’s lives. In the first half of the workshop, participants led community-centered needs assessments with real communities, developed project outlines, and researched evidence-based solutions. In the second half of the course, they produced logical frameworks (complete with M&E plans, and outcome and impact statements), detailed budgets, project schedules and a short proposal—all of which they presented to a representative of USAID Guatemala for funding. We have our fingers crossed!

Nutrition, Food Security, & Home Gardens

This month I’m going to show a technique for investigating best practices in Home Gardens, and show how to lead a community workshop in home gardens for nutrition.

Frequently in Guatemala I come across the problem of chronic malnutrition; according to the World Health Organization, 49.7% of rural, indigenous Guatemalan children are malnourished. Home gardens could be a solution to this problem, but not being certain, I decided to investigate this idea for evidence of having worked –  and then develop a Lesson Plan and How-To Card for field staff to use within communities.

For many people living in the cycle of poverty, the idea of starting a kitchen garden might seem overwhelming. It could be the time investment, it might be perceived costs. It might be a lack of know-how: what to plant, how to plant and how to care for a garden. However, the positive benefits make it worthwhile enabling community members in gardening for nutrition.

An evidence basis as seen in scientific studies:
I used Google Scholar to find the following scientific papers:
Keywords: Family gardens and small animal production for increasing food security and nutrition

1. Improving Diet Quality and Micronutrient Nutrition: Homestead Food Production in Bangladesh; IFPRI; Lora Iannotti, Kenda Cunningham, Marie Ruel.

2. Effect of nutrition improvement project on morbidity from infectious diseases in preschool children in Vietnam: comparison with control commune; R M English, J C Badcock, Tu Giay, Tu Ngu, A­M Waters, S A Bennett

3. Home gardens key to improved nutritional well-being; L. Bhattacharjee, S. Phithayaphone and B.K. Nandi

Summary Paragraph:
These studies show that home gardens can provide 60% of leafy vegetables, and between 20% and 50% of all fruits and vegetables consumed by households. Home gardening families as a rule spends less on food than non-gardening families. Improved nutrition boosts the body’s immune system protecting children against disease and can reduce diarrheal infections from 18% of the children to 5% of the children. One study showed that after six months of a vegetable garden project, the number of malnourished children decreased from 23% in the communities to 16% and the number of severely malnourished children decreased from 9.5% to 2%. The studies all emphasized that the vegetable gardens needed to be combined with nutrition education so that mothers could make sure that they were growing a variety of vegetables and fruit rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin A. The gardens were also a good source of protein through eggs and small animal production. The studies concluded that even a small garden (25 sq. meters) can have a positive impact on nutrition, health and increased incomes.

Getting Started
Start small, think simple. The purpose of the first year’s workshops and the gardens that get planted are to give the participants a win—so that they will be encouraged to plant again the following year. Even if they plant only one bed 1 meter by 4 meters, they should be able to get positive, delicious, nutritious results. Digging a new bed each year also minimizes the year one time investment, and gives them the chance to decide where to locate the next bed.

In the first workshop, community members learn about their family’s nutritional deficits, and are given ideas of what they could grow to offset this challenge. Work with an agriculturalist in your area to list plants rich in vitamin A, and fruits and vegetables that offer protein and fats like avocados. Work with villagers to pick the things from the list they would be interested in growing first.

Planning the Garden.
A garden must first be planned and designed. In the first year we won’t get into too much detail; let us not scare people away from the idea with too much information. During the course of the year we can gradually teach them more so that they can do a better job of planning for year two.

We need to plan for sun, exposure to wind and runoff, family size and food production, and crop choice for nutrition. Provide large sheets of paper for them to design an example garden. Ask participants to sketch the area around their house and begin thinking of a good location for their garden. Work with the family to make a decision: a single small bed the first year—or something bigger?

Looking at organic material samples collected from around the village
Discuss the importance of organic matter for the soil and the beds. In the first year, since they may not have compost, let them know that they can begin by spreading whatever chopped-up organic material (OM) they can find on top of the staked out bed location. This can be leaves, manure, corn stalks, vegetable-based kitchen scraps. Organic material in garden soil provides nutrients, structure and facilitates holding water. Explain how many freely available types of OM are available around the village for getting garden plot started. Have participants discuss other materials that they might be able to use.

Raised Beds.
They provide a soft environment for roots, they drain well, and the soil flora and fauna receive the oxygen they need. Soil is a living, breathing organism of sand, clay, organic matter, earthworms, nutrients, minerals, water and plant roots. It can suffer from being too wet, too dry and too sandy. Organic material and the soft soil of the raised beds are a benefit for root penetration, drainage, aeration, nutrient availability, and structure.

Taking turns laying out and digging a bed, mixing in organic material and smoothing the bed.
Stake out an area for a bed that is no wider than 1 meter; clear it of any vegetation or trash. Lay some organic material on top of the staked-out area. Beginning at one end of the new bed, dig a 1 meter long trench one shovel in depth and one shovel width wide. Place the soil to the side. With a garden fork or with the shovel, loosen the soil in the bottom of the trench a further shovel depth—but don’t remove it. Place some more organic material in the trench.

Dig a second trench alongside the first one, tossing the soil into the first trench. With the addition of the OM and the fluffing of the soil, the soil should now be higher than the surrounding terrain. Continue this process for the entire length of the bed. Place the soil set aside from the first trench into the last trench.

Using a garden rake, and without walking on the new bed, carefully break up any clumps of soil and rake the surface of the new bed smooth, flat and level. Carefully rake the outer edges so that they slope at a 45-degree angle, and so that a small lip forms at the upper edge for holding water.

Laying out a seed grid and planting a few example seeds at the right distances and depths.
Nutritious plants should have already been selected in the nutrition section of the workshop, and seeds obtained. The seeds should come with directions for correct spacing for planting and correct planting depths. Working with your community members, explain how to measure out and mark the beds for planting the seeds. Being sure not to walk on the new beds, help them plant the seeds and cover them with soil.

Gently watering the newly planted seedbeds.
Use a watering can with a fine spray and gently water the newly planted seeds. Water slowly enough that the water can soak in and not form pools; pools can cause the seeds to float to the surface. Explain the best times of day to water, frequency, duration and quantity. Let the workshop participants take turns watering the newly planted seedbeds.

Put together a simple fence to protect the bed from animals. Be creative and use any free materials just to get going the first year. The fence could be made of branches, old tires, old barrels, or old pallets.

A Lesson Plan and How-To Card available for field staff to use in leading this workshop, and in following up with the families.

See you in May.

The 56 Countries:
Australia, Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia , France, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, India, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Peru, Qatar, Rwanda, Serbia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago W.I., Uganda, UK, Ukraine, United States, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia.