We've been working with Donatille's cooperative over the last year, first assisting them in gaining access to land, then awarding them a loan for their community garden. We provided technical assistance, while they provided the innovation and commitment. From a few hectares of uncultivated land, they're creating a productive farming system: they dug two fish ponds, over which they built rabbit houses. They constructed a fruit tree nursery and a hut to grow mushrooms and planted a maze of vegetable beds.
They will share the harvests among all members, even those too sick to work on the field, and they will sell their surplus. This year they will sell their maize to a local food aid manufacturer, especially significant because many of them have been recipients of food aid in the past. To hear Donatille speak of their progress and plans is exciting; she talks about eating better, feeling better, taking her medication, and her newfound love for beets.
Later on, our agronomists distribute seeds and seedlings for home gardens. Hawa chooses a papaya tree, a moringa tree and a package of soy beans, cow peas, amaranth, beets, tomatoes, Swiss chard, onions, garlic, and sunflower seeds. The colorful harvest will supplement the sorghum, potatoes, and cassava that form the staple of her diet. She has twin babies, one HIV positive, the other negative. To see her with her twins is to see in the immediate how the virus manifests itself. Her HIV positive son is sick, recently hospitalized with malnutrition, and cries often, while his healthier sister is even starting to walk.
Photo Courtesy of Gardens for Health
Hawa came to Kigali city on her own a couple years ago for opportunity, and soon ended up in the hospital TB ward for six months. She is now out of the hospital and on antiretroviral treatment, but hunger is a nagging companion. While her medication makes her feel nauseous if she doesn't take it with food, her greater worry each night is what she will feed her children the next day. If her children have food to eat, she says she is less likely to pursue risky survival strategies to provide food for them, strategies that transmitted the virus to her in the first place. What the home garden brings her, she says, is a small sense of security about tomorrow.
"Food security" is a phrase thrown around a lot these days. The World Food Summit just ended in Rome amidst reports that global hunger is the worst it has been in recent history--in Africa, and even in America. There is emerging political commitment from global leaders to address food insecurity, resulting in debate on grand scale. What we are finding on the ground, inspired by Rwandans like Donatille and Hawa, is that one solution to the food crisis is communities creating their own solutions. Such strategies celebrate collaboration and initiative; they also strengthen bonds where communal support is especially important--in our case, the chronically ill. Whether it is gardens in Rwanda, or neighborhood farms cropping up in vacant lots across America, communities cooperatively and collectively growing their own nutritious food are setting powerful examples for all of us.
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