Fighting the malnutrition through backyard gardens

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Khoram Khan, who has been really motivated by World Vision to let him know about the benefits of Kitchen gardening is showing the vegetables which he has grown in his backyard.

Until a few months ago, the primary crops in the village of Sultan Khan were just wheat and rice. Today, they also grow other crops, like potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, ivy gourd, bitter melon and long melon thanks to small 20 foot by 20 foot gardens. The nutrition project, funded by the government of Germany, has set up at least one kitchen garden, as they are called, in each village in the areas of Sukkur and Khaipur where World Vision is working in an effort to solve the basic problem of malnutrition.  

In Pakistan, the nutritional status of children under five years of age is extremely poor. According to the National Nutrition Survey, almost 40 per cent of these children are underweight and 58.1 per cent of households are food insecure. Across the country, only three per cent of children receive a diet that meets the minimum standards of dietary diversity.

The main factors leading to chronic malnutrition in Pakistan include: poverty, high illiteracy rates among mothers and food insecurity. To help curb this problem, World Vision started its nutrition project whose aim is to support vulnerable families and help them have access to increased productivity and availability of food through innovative agriculture interventions, mainly through implementing kitchen gardens (designed to help increase food availability and nutritional diversity) and poultry rearing. 

Ali Asghar, an agriculture and livestock expert at World Vision, has been guiding the community for the last six months, helping them solve their nutrition problems with the help of kitchen gardens and livestock management.

As a first step, Ali held informational sessions about kitchen gardening and consulted the community as to which nutrient dense vegetables and other crops they would like to grow, in addition to the traditional wheat and rice. 

Ali Asghar( White Shalwar Kameez), an agriculture and livestock expert at World Vision, is visiting the Kitchen Garden along with Mr. Qamar Iqbal( brown shalwar Kameez and black coat) the programme Officer at World Vision Pakistan.

“Initially, there was resistance and lack of understanding as people were prone to [want to] cultivate the cash crops. But, when we (World Vision) conducted sessions on kitchen gardening and told them about benefits of kitchen gardening and asked them to spare a small portion for it [in addition to] carrying on with the cash crops, the community began to adopt it,” shared Ali Asghar. “The kitchen gardens are grown here on the natural farming concept, with no fertilizers or pesticides added,” he added.

“We were totally relying on the cash crops and had never thought that we can grow pure (high nutrient) vegetables in our backyards,”

“We were totally relying on the cash crops and had never thought that we can grow pure (high nutrient) vegetables in our backyards,” says Khoram Khan, grandfather, resident and kitchen gardener in Sultan Khan village. “[Now], we can enjoy a healthy food at a cheaper price than we pay for them when we buy them from market,” he says, noting how her four young grandsons have benefited from their backyard garden. 

“We have no exposure nor do we have any idea about the modern techniques of farming. We have been engaged in the same traditional farming which was used by our ancestors,” says Khoram. “Thanks to World Vision who not only told us to grow vegetables in our backyards but also trained us and provided us the seeds and necessary tools for kitchen gardening,” he added.

“Gardening is a great way to achieve unity among its member while preparing food,” says Khoram. “Fortunately, it is a better way we can fight back against malnutrition – right in our backyards,” he added.

“I was surprised to know that I can cultivate vegetables in a space of just 20 by 20 feet and  by just investing a meagre amount of PKR 500 ($ 5 (USD)) and [from this work, I] can eat that vegetable for at least six months,” says Khoram Khan.  

“I still remember a quote mentioned by World Vision project coordinator, Mr. Imran. He said ; ‘Only well-nourished children can grow to their full potential and can actively perform in education and other opportunities’,” recalls Khoram. When he heard those words, Khoram knew he had to react. “I at once decide to provide a healthy nutrition to my kids,” he added further.

Most people in Sindh are mainly involved in traditional farming. They cultivate cash crops on hundreds of acres, but do not bother to cultivate a small patch vegetables to eat. Instead, they have, traditionally, preferred to buy vegetables from markets, which are being cultivated on commercial basis and contain the pesticides and fertilizers at even pay higher prices. World Vision is helping shift this mentality as kitchen gardening yields the necessary protein, vitamins and mineral requirements needed to help children grow and keep parents strong. Through these gardens, farmers are seeing firsthand that it is possible to grow food and plants without the use of harmful pesticides. 

World Vision organized 26 trainings, including hands-on demonstrations, to promote the trend of growing vegetables for household consumption; 537 Beneficiaries (199 male and 338 female) actively participated in the trainings. 

During the Sessions, participants were informed of the recommended garden size, which is 20 feet by 20 feet. They were told that most fertile area in the backyard should be selected for Kitchen gardening and advised how to create a sight slope, to provide drainage (especially during the rainy season) and told that if the area is flat, they should dig drainage channels or ditches around the planting site. They were also advised that the garden must receive sunshine throughout the day, as growing plants need sunshine to manufacture food and were reminded that the garden should be located near water sources so that they could continue to grow, even during the dry season. 

Finally, they were advised that the gardens should be divided into patches with one section being planted with short-term vegetables that will be ready for use in two to four months and the other section given over to crops, which take six to nine months to produce.

Kitchen gardening can be an effective and domestic tool to curb the problem of malnutrition. People in rural Sindh are mainly involved in agriculture and almost every family possess a small piece of land they can designate to cultivate vegetables which are not only cheaper but also higher in nutrition, when compared to vegetables grown with the help of pesticides and fertilizers. The only need is to create awareness among the people. If they are informed about the benefits of techniques like kitchen gardening, surely we can reduce the number of children facing malnutrition and food insecurity.

News Source : Fighting the malnutrition through backyard gardens

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