Christian Care implemented the low input gardens (LIG) project as part of efforts to reduce the rate of malnutrition in Chipinge district. One hundred nutritionally vulnerable households were selected to participate in this project. The basic eligibility criteria was that the households should have at least one member who fit into the following categories - pregnant and new mothers, families with children under the age of five, persons living with HIV/AIDS, persons living with Tuberculosis, or persons with disabilities. In some circumstances, further economic and livelihoods indicators considered for eligibility into the program. The main objective of the project is to increase the quantity and variety of mineral rich vegetables available to the target group and improve knowledge of nutrition. The major activities of the last year include: training of trainers on Low Input Gardens, cascading training to the participants by trainers, planting and maintaining seeds and crops, and conducting nutrition awareness campaigns to increase awareness on the importance of a healthy diet.
Christian Care conducted a Low Input Garden Training of Trainers workshop for 48 individuals who have agricultural backgrounds. The two and a half day workshop aimed at providing a refresher course on the skills and knowledge required to assist communities to establish and maintain household low input nutrition gardens that guarantee year-round access to a variety of nutritious vegetables. After the training, the trainers conducted trainings with lead farmers selected among the beneficiaries. These were practical demonstrations of establishing low input gardens, in many cases a demonstration of the keyhole garden. Other variations, such as the grow bags and grow tins, were also explored. The lead farmers assisted approximately 15 local beneficiary households to establish gardens at their homesteads. The capacity building of trainers and the lead farmers is making a significant impact toward increasing the sustainability of the project through agronomy support as well as monitoring and evaluation of the gardens.
Christian Care purchased and distributed one hundred packs of assorted vegetable seed and one hundred sets small garden tools (small forks, garden trowels, and watering cans). These items were purchased and distributed to households in wards 22, 23 and 25 in Chipinge. The vegetable packs included seeds for mineral rich vegetables such as spinach, beans, butternut, rape, mustard, and tomato among others. All the farmers planted the vegetables in their gardens and have been harvesting the vegetables over the past 7 months. Approximately 75% of the households have been able to meet their daily vegetable requirements, and are selling the surplus to earn additional income to cater for expenses such as grain milling, purchase of additional food items such as salt and sugar, and non-food items such as soap. Because of the proximity of the gardens to the participants’ homes, disabled persons, persons with illnesses, and young children are able to participate actively in the gardens. They also highlighted that the risk of sexual abuse among women and girls when they travel go to a remote garden has been eradicated. Household chores such as cooking, caring for children and sick family members can be done simultaneously with working in the garden.
From an environment perspective, low input gardens are well suited to the environmental conditions prevailing in the area. The keyhole gardens have excellent water conservation capacity, as water is very scarce in most of the communities in Chipinge. The summer rainfall season this year was preceded by very hot temperatures which stretched the moisture retention capacity of the keyhole gardens to the limits. Temperatures soared to an incredible 113oF (45oC) in the Chipinge valley. Most boreholes dried up and as a result most households significantly cut back on their daily water requirements. This reduced the amount of wastewater generated at household level. As a result several crops in the household gardens suffered severe moisture stress. This period was succeeded by a very wet season. Initially, this improved the condition of the gardens but later started to trigger negatives outcomes such as leaching, fungal diseases and blights as well as leaf worms. Monitoring efforts, such as home visits were delayed by the heavy rains, which as rivers were bursting their banks, triggering flash floods in some of the areas, and damaged the already poor road network making some households with low-input gardens inaccessible. This resulted in some of the problems such as the pest and diseases infestation going unnoticed for a longer period. As this was the first year of implementation for the project, and the farmers are continuing to grow in their knowledge of potential problems resulting from flash flooding and droughts, the farmers are better equipped and aware of signals to provide additional care for their crops.
Christian Care purchased information, education and communication materials such as t-shirts for agricultural trainers and lead farmers, and banners to support local community health initiatives and events. Christian Care held more than 150 awareness campaigns at community meetings, clinics, schools, and churches to grow awareness on nutrition and keyhole gardens. These events also included performances by community “edutainment groups” of dramas, poems, and songs that promote better nutrition habits and practices. These events helped to complement the current food security efforts by Christian Care, and will lead to healthier households and communities.
Through the special gifts received for the low-input garden project, Christian Care Zimbabwe has successfully provided access to a variety of fresh and nutritious vegetables among the participants through low-input gardens near their homes. There is increased nutrition knowledge and practices among participants and the community as a result of the awareness campaigns. Non-participants in the community that are seeing the success of low-input gardens are adopting keyhole and other low-input gardens. This will multiply the impacts of the project in a way that also guarantees sustainability of the project’s benefits through community ownership. Christian Care plans to integrate the garden project with other resilience building interventions such as the repair of boreholes, which are the primary water source in the project area. There is also need to build the community’s understanding on changing weather patterns from climate change, available adaptation options, and conservation farming methods.