Establishing sustainable food gardens to fight food insecurity and health issues brought on by malnutrition.
Food insecurity and poverty in disadvantaged communities has been highlighted and brought into the mainstream media, as a massive issue facing South Africa in the time of Covid-19, amid Lockdown. A lack of nutritious food is exposing hidden hunger and stunted growth in kids below the age of 5. Job loss and access to public spaces have prevented many families from obtaining any money to buy food and support their families. Too many people are relying on food parcels and feeding schemes to survive, and these two options are not sustainable.
Current breadwinners with limited disposable income buy only what they deem as necessary. In terms of food, this would be starches and proteins that are filling. Nutritionally speaking, vegetables and fruits contain the micro-nutrients that have the biggest impact on the development of children that furnish them with an impregnable immune system. Often, these foods are expensive and not purchased, resulting in compromised immune systems and children’s brain development being potentially stunted as a result of malnutrition. Communities need to be educated on the importance of eating fruit and vegetables and this will create a greater demand for them. Understanding that limited income can be a bottleneck, these families need to be taught how to plant, maintain and harvest these crops from their backyards.
Childhood is a vital time in the growth and development of any individual. The first 2 years of a child’s life set them up for healthy growth and development. The early stages are the most key when it comes to the establishment of physical and mental abilities. Certain dietary deficiencies during the first 2 years of life, for example, iodine and iron, can create problems that are irreversible even by adopting an adequate diet later in life. The intake of varied micronutrients is essential for metabolism in general, cell division and growth.
Diets play a monumental role in the development of any child, it is important to identify the quality and quantities of food the child must have access to. As children develop, dietary and nutrient requirements alter to keep up with growth and development. It is important to monitor that change closely. Should the child not be provided with adequate nutrition at the right time, their growth and development may be interrupted, and this can have catastrophic effects later in life.
Cognitive development in children involves the maturation of higher mental functions like attention, memory, learning and perception. During the years where this development takes place, optimal brain development is associated with better academic ability. Should anything happen that harms the brain’s development, then this may lead to impaired academic ability. A child’s cognitive development is vulnerable to dietary deficiencies, meaning that providing inadequate nutrition to children may impair their ability to learn at school.
Therefore there is a need to educate parents, kids and the general population on the role that vegetables and fruit play in the development of young kids, and ensuring fit and strong immune systems in adults. With that in mind, Khuthaza Foundation will be developing learning material that will cover the basics of nutrition and meal preparation using vegetables. We will also need to develop training manuals to help guide the community stakeholders in their journey of planting their food. The manuals need to be available in local languages to be best understood and therefore more effective.
Our objective is to develop a sustainable food garden model. After the garden has been established and running, there should be as little external intervention as possible. The community members should be able to run the project successfully by themselves and not rely on external people to give them relief and help. They must not feel like charity cases but instead be equipped with the knowledge and tools to look after themselves. If you give people food parcels, eventually the funding to buy that food will run out, but if you teach them how to look after and turn the soil, then food production is endless. Simply put, we want food gardens to be sustainable, by strategically involving different community stakeholders in the inception of the garden and to ensure their continued interest and involvement in the future. It only makes sense to us that the people that benefit from the garden be the ones that maintain it and ensure that their goose keeps on laying golden eggs.
To get the food garden project moving forward we need to identify the following three key facets:
We must evaluate and determine if there is a need for a food garden from the community’s perspective; is there safe and secure land that we can develop the food garden? Are there community stakeholders or beneficiaries interested in making the project a success who will follow through when required to do so? Is it a safe environment for us to work in without fear of incidents of criminality?
A local contact that we can work closely with
That person must be someone of influence in whom the community can listen to and trust. They will be instrumental in the development and upkeep of the garden. That person needs to identify other leaders, teachers, principals or agriculture teachers, as well as parents or school governing body members that are reliable, to pass communique to others regarding activities related to the food garden. They spark more interest and involvement from the community, an influencer and opinion leader of some sort. We need to impart whatever skill & knowledge we have to those identified, who in turn can educate kids to ensure continuity and productivity going forward. This could plant a seed in the learners and they can start considering agriculture as a possible career should they choose to.
We must Identify those with the skills and knowledge to help with the development of the garden. Khuthaza Foundation is an organisation in its infancy. We do not possess all the necessary skills and resources to execute the project from start to finish. To combat that, it is important to differentiate the various stages of garden development and identify the correct personnel to collaborate with at each stage. This will also help us to do justice to the project and not offer the community half-baked information and actions, but ensure that each stage has qualified personnel to direct and execute what is required. The idea is to offer training to the community stakeholders that will be involved in the upkeep of the garden. We believe that the training will offer information that will make it easier for the garden to be managed sustainably when the Khuthaza Foundation or any of the external stakeholders are no longer there. The training needs to cover land preparation, planting, germination (if seeds are used) weed management, harvesting, pest and water management. With the help and direction of external stakeholders, we can install systems to help support the community. This involves developing standard operating procedures that will make it easier for anyone to walk in and help maintain the garden, even if the original organisers are no longer part of the project, or were only involved for a limited period.
To keep the garden sustainable, we need to ensure that we have someone or individuals that are responsible for the general upkeep of the garden i.e. weeding, watering, pest and disease management and general plant management. People would need to commit to the project and would have a roster of job functions and dedicated times to work the garden. Ideally, the people would work in the garden and be paid by harvesting and selling produce. The goal is to produce food for the kids, teachers and community members. The excess will be sold in the informal market to spaza shops and hawkers in the community. The responsible person would need to approach possible outlets, and get information on which produce they sell and make arrangements to create a supply chain. This would also help determine the crops needed to be harvested. This money generated will help to keep the project sustainable by paying the people responsible for its upkeep, and provide working capital for the purchase of equipment and seedlings and compost.
With all this in mind, coupled with food shortages and impending unemployment numbers rising significantly, our pilot project is more important now than ever before. Covid-19 is not going away any time soon. The need for healthy, nutritious food is as important in the fight against the virus as is social distancing, testing, contact tracing and immunization. Getting gardens planted now, will ensure that in the coming months there will be food available to those in need and without cost to them. Feeding schemes can get freshly grown, local produce to add to their food bowls, adding bulk and vital vitamins and minerals to the diet of malnourished people.
There are so many ways you can get involved, contact us and find out what you can do to help. Keep those less fortunate in mind, stay safe and do your best to help limit the spread of Covid-19. We can emerge from this crisis much stronger if we focus on the basics of humanity and help our fellow citizens work the land that can provide everything they need to be a healthy, wealthy and united nation.