Across Africa, a New Kind of Container Garden Is Changing Women’s Lives
Friday, July 31, 2015
Some people have the talent to take a simple idea and adapt it into a solution with far-reaching benefits. Take Veronica Kanyango of Zimbabwe, a grassroots organizer who works in home-based health care and hospice for people with HIV/AIDS. She’s managed to take a couple of bags full or dirt and turn them into an agrarian movement.
“You show her a sack garden, and she’s turned it into a network of women who are producing lettuce and tomatoes for the Marriott hotel,” said Regina Pritchett of theHuairou Commission, a nonprofit that works on housing and community issues for women across Africa.
Using bags of the sort you stuffed yourself in for a race on field day—which are filled with manure, soil, and gravel—sack gardening or farming has been successfully adopted in areas of Africa where agriculture faces distinctly different challenges. It’s proved an effective way to grow food in regions with drought as well as areas prone to flooding, in rural communities and in urban slums. At the Grassroots Academy coordinated by the Huairou Commission in the spring of 2014, Pritchett said, the concept exploded.
“Of all the practices in the room, that’s the one people were most excited about. There’s not a high cost to get started, you’re not waiting on someone to give you seed funding. You could grab a sack and do that tomorrow,” she said.
Like a deep container garden or a vertical farming operation, sack gardens can take a small footprint of land and yield a comparative bounty. Compared to a traditional field-based farm, the sacks require fewer resources in every category: less space, less water, and less labor.
“A lot of the farming techniques that are developed by members of our group come out of the Home Based Care Alliance,” explained Pritchett. Those living with HIV/AIDS may not have the strength for the rigors of farming—walking to a water source and carrying it back, tilling the land, or spending hours stooped over in the fields weeding and harvesting crops. “Sack farming is a less physically intense version of farming,” she said. “You can just do a lot more with less. It’s about efficiency.”