Home gardens, healthy children, happy parents
School Principal Robina teaches her young students to grow vegetables and cook them for school lunch. The children are noticeably healthier, which has made her school very popular among parents.
Malnutrition in Uganda is rampant due to lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet. As a result 38% of children under 5 years of age are stunted and 73% are anemic, which permanently affects their physical and mental development. Vegetables, particularly traditional African vegetables, are rich in micronutrients that can combat malnutrition. The World Health Organization recommends a daily intake of 400 grams vegetables and fruits, but this standard is rarely achieved in rural Uganda.
To address this problem, the World Vegetable Center together with Voluntary Efforts for Development Concerns (VEDCO) trained groups of smallholder farmers, mostly women, on methods of growing high yielding African traditional vegetables in small plots near their homes. Training sessions also cover improved nutrition and meal preparation.
Robina Nasozi is a farmer who participated in the training and received a seed kit with seven different types of vegetables. She planted all of them, but she particularly liked nakati (leaves of African eggplant) and dodo (amaranth). “I like these leafy vegetables very much,” she said. “They are tastier than the ones we collect from the wild, not so bitter. When the plants in the home garden started flowering, I let them mature and I collected their seeds. I then prepared more seed beds and I now have many plots as you can see. The vegetables are also very marketable, they sell at Ugsh 1000 (USD 0.30) for a small bunch of 5 cuttings. During Easter I was able to sell nakati worth Ugsh 20,000 (USD 6). Last year I earned Ugsh 50,000 with the proceeds of vegetable sales, which I used to pay the school bills of my grandchild, who stays with me.”
Robina is a well-respected person in Katogo village of Mukono District. She runs a primary school with 84 students. She was selected by her community to be their leader in the USAID Homegarden Scaling Project. She has taught many other farmers simple but effective methods of seed bed preparation, sowing, harvesting, and cooking. “Members of the farmer groups I teach all got their seed kits from the World Vegetable Center, but there are many other people who ask me for seeds,” Robina said. “So I not only preserve seeds for myself, but I also share my seeds with others.” To illustrate her point, Robina guided visitors to the fields of neighbors who established home gardens with nakati, spider plant, and amaranth, and to her school, where several classes were in session. The children peeped through the big open windows, and seemed very conscious of their teacher, who undoubtedly instructed them to remain seated. Robina said she uses the vegetables she grows to prepare school lunches for the students. The students looked very healthy and cheerful indeed.
The experience of Robina and her neighbors in Katogo shows that even though farmers have access to local vegetables from the wild, the careful selection, evaluation and breeding of those lines by the World Vegetable Center has resulted in types that are even more appreciated by farmers and are now in high demand. Working with innovative and influential farmers such as Robina increases the impact of the seed kit distribution initiative, because she multiplies the seeds and distributes them to other farmers. The combination of providing improved seeds, training of farmers, and education of children is a powerful way of tackling malnutrition in Uganda.
“After being taught by this project, I know how to grow vegetables in better ways. Now I want every student in my school to cultivate a small plot—I give them a space. Some of the vegetables that they grow I will use to cook lunch for them, but most of the vegetables they can take home, and teach their parents what they have learned here. After I started this project I have noticed that children haven’t fallen sick as much as before. I have become very popular this way and now more people bring their children to my school.”
Contributor: Ralph Roothaert, AVRDC Eastern and Southern Africa, Arusha, Tanzania