It is difficult to make a success of food gardening – as I have learned through many a failed attempt. I have been inspired though by Abalimi Bezekhaya who runs a training and support programme, Harvest of Hope, for food garden farmers in the Western Cape. Through this programme every farmer is supported and trained to rent a microplot and manage his/her own farm. Abalimi then markets, packs, sells and delivers the farmers’ produce to buyers to allow the farmers to earn an income per month. The farmers can also use the leftover produce to sell or to feed their own families.
Harvest of Hope is the kind of project that could have an impact on the nutritional outcomes of children through income replacement and leftover produce. Hunger and under-nutrition have a huge impact on the health of people, and in particular, children. As we know, many children don’t have access to adequate types and diversity of food. The National Food Consumption Survey (NFCS) points out that in South Africa one out of five children aged 1–9 years are stunted and the prevalence of under-nutrition is highest in rural areas. Stunting in early years is the reason for inadequate growth and sub-optimal educational achievements which contributes to reduction in lifetime earnings and to poverty. Improving nutrition for children could break this vicious circle.
Small-scale agriculture has a positive association with higher nutritional status in children, as well as potentially beneficial income replacement options. Evaluation of a project by the Agricultural Research Council in Lusikisiki (Eastern Cape) showed a favourable effect on child morbidity, nutritional knowledge and dietary intake of Vitamin A rich vegetables. They specifically found that food gardens are effective in increasing the diversity of food eaten, thereby improving micronutrient intake. At the same time studies show that an increase in income in rural areas results in increased expenditure on fresh and processed fruit and vegetables and meat, which has an impact on rural diets and goes a long way towards addressing the issue of hunger (Aliber 2009). However, to implement successful foodgardens you need to grow the right mix of vegetables, at the right time and you need to be trained on how to grow it. What is more, to successfully impact nutritional outcomes more than access to food is required – a holistic approach is the answer. Research by the Medical Research Council (MRC) found that when vegetable garden projects focus on children under five years of age, they also need to pay attention to the promotion of breastfeeding, up-to-date immunization, teaching mothers of vitamin A intake, deworming, regular visits to the clinic to monitor growth, aspects of hygiene and sanitation and clean and safe water.
In conclusion, food gardens are important in ensuring food security and in improving nutritional outcomes, especially for children. However, food garden projects notoriously suffer high failure rates which is why initiatives like those of Abalimi, dedicated to increasing the success rates of food garden farmers, is not only inspiring, but essential. Many of us might be in a position to provide some support and training to people that we come in contact with in terms of food gardening – and there is good evidence that you will be making a difference if you do.
Read a detailed literature review on the role of food gardens in addressing malnutrition in children here.