Continued Prosperity: Best Garden Winners

BLOG BY DANIELLE ALLYN // ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2016

Step one: receive orange-flesh sweet potatoes, dodo [amaranth], and avocado. Step two: select your indigenous leafy green between spider plant, sukumawiki [kale], and nightshade. Step three: choose your protein: soy or kidney beans? Step four: select one market vegetable[1] from among carrots, eggplant, onions, green pepper, and radish. Step five: select a fruit tree seedling between passion fruit, tree tomato, or papaya. Step six: attend GHI health and agriculture training for fourteen weeks. Prepare small beds in your garden, start seedlings in a nursery, make and incorporate organic pesticides and compost, and water during dry season. Harvest. Cook “One Pot” in “One Hour” using the “4 colors”[2] of nutritional diversity. Nourish your family. Repeat.

 Primitive and her daughter Murikatete, 2, in her award-winning garden.

Primitive and her daughter Murikatete, 2, in her award-winning garden.

At GHI, dodo, sweet potatoes, and avocado are core components of our home garden package, distributed to every partner family at the beginning of a 14-week training season. Families receive seeds over a period of three growing seasons, providing a foundation for harvest for a period of one year. Our garden package promotes biodiversity and nutritional diversity, recognizing these as complementary and mutually reinforcing pillars of environmentally sustainable and nourishing home gardens. The package honors the agency of families, empowering partners to select from a template of seeds according to local soil suitability, projected profitability, and family dietary preferences.

Among the available seeds in our home garden catalog, some potential threats to harvest impact all crops equally. Others are variety-dependent. Some challenges vary according to crop and soil suitability in a given area. By positioning families as the architects of their own home garden models, GHI offers a framework for farmers to channel knowledge of localized growing conditions in order to maximize the nutritional potential of their harvest.

“When you add compost into your soil, the soil will produce a good harvest here in Kimonyi. [However], sometimes we have seeds that are not good, that are not compatible with the soil here.” (Anastasie Nyirandarazi, Season 2016A, Kimonyi)

Gashaki, an hour’s drive from the Musanze district capital, sits overlooking Rwanda’s Lake Ruhondo at about 1830 meters above sea level. The community faces dormant Mount Muhabura across the lake. Guava grows well in Gashaki, as does corn.

In Kimonyi, adjacent to the district capital, farmers harvest potatoes from rocky, volcanic soil common to the valleys of the Virunga mountain range. Anastasie notes that Kimonyi’s rocky soil exacerbates the weather-based challenges of dry season, as the soil in her area retains comparatively lower levels of moisture.

Primitive graduated from the GHI program in August 2015. Anastasie completed her training four months later, in December. Each received recognition from GHI field staff in their respective communities for consistently superior harvests. Primitive and Anastasie continue to experience high yield due to these women’s adoption of a method of problem solving that is at once innovative and locally grounded. The social and physical environments in which Primitive and Anastasie farm in Gashaki and Kimonyi, respectively, differ both subtly and markedly. Corresponding methods of farming, therefore, also differ.

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In Gashaki, Primitive balances production for household consumption and income generation, negotiating with her husband to determine adequate land allocation for these dual but not necessarily competing objectives:

“The space that I use for my home garden is enough because it produces enough [vegetables] for the family. I might extend, but for now I do not plan it. My husband might come and say, ‘We need to use this space’ [for cash crop production] and we may use some space, but not the whole garden.”

Primitive’s home garden thrives despite the pests (agasimba) that threaten to destroy her crops. She recounts her first growing season with GHI, in which insects destroyed her budding nightshade. Primitive continues to refine her production of homemade pesticides, as her harvests simultaneously increase in volume.

“I determined to immediately make pesticides whenever bugs threatened to destroy my crops. [Now] I start when the bugs are few so that they do not multiply and destroy the plants. Another challenge that I met was with a worm that lived in my soil. Every time I planted seeds in my nursery, it would eat them. I asked my neighbors [what was going on] because I didn’t see the worms, and they said that it must be something underground. I started to hunt the worms. After killing many of them, they stopped eating my crops. During my first season with GHI I had a good harvest of carrots. Because with every [passing] season I improve my skills, I harvested even more during the previous season.”

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 Anastasie and her children Claude and Claudette in her award-winning garden in Kimonyi.

Anastasie and her children Claude and Claudette in her award-winning garden in Kimonyi.

In Kimonyi, Anastasie works on raised beds to mitigate the growth-inhibiting effects of rocky, volcanic soil. Like Primitive, she fears the perpetual and destructive presence of agasimba, pests poised to undermine weeks of effort. As in Gashaki, land use and restricted access to land may dictate the parameters of possibility for farmers in Kimonyi. This is a reality that Anastasie today confronts in providing nourishing food for her twins Claude and Claudine, their older sister Florence, and her eldest son, aged 16:

“I plan to extend my home garden because on the plot of land where I cultivate, I keep harvesting vegetables, and I think that they are not enough [to sustain my family] until the next harvest. This is why I plan to extend to the other land that I have, even though it is not big, because I can’t afford a bigger parcel of land.”

In addition to prioritizing agency in seed selection and garden design, GHI’s home garden model is designed to produce maximal yield with minimal land input, ensuring that land access never serves as a limiting factor for families. The success of Anastasie’s and Primitive’s gardens daily tesitifies to the efficacy of such a low-input, high yield model. While Primitive engages routinely in land use discussions with her husband, Anastasie, a widow, shares the majority of her household’s agricultural burden with her eldest son. As the sole provider and caregiver in her family, Anastasie rises early to care for her crops before seeking work as a mason’s assistant at construction sites near her home. As she supplements her income with external labor, her son attends to their fields, ensuring that no crop falls into disrepair.

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Primitive’s and Anastasie’s abundant harvests are tangible evidence of the success of their gardens. In the lives of these women, however, indicators of success go beyond production and consumption; they are weaved also into the social fabric in which they exist and thrive. Primitive directly links the success of her garden to the health of her daughter Murikatete:

“All of the seeds I received gave a good harvest, and I think it is because I was eager to work in my home garden. During my first season [after enrolling in the GHI program], I had a good harvest with onions, and I had problems with my daughter’s health, so I was able to sell [onions] on the market and take my daughter to the hospital.”

For Anastasie, changes to her own approach to home agriculture inspired a shift in farming practices throughout Kimonyi:

She beams as she visits the garden of a friend and neighbor, Beatrice Uwiyimana. Despite never having personally participated in the GHI program, Beatrice’s garden rivals that of many GHI graduates, thanks to mentorship and supervision from Anastasie. The two laugh as they pose for a picture amidst a forest of sukumawiki [kale] in front of Beatrice’s home. The GHI model recognizes partner families not as beneficiaries but as implementing agents of their own prosperity. Our home garden package and our approach to agriculture reflect this premise. Given the space to work within and adapt the best practices in sustainable and nutritionally sound agriculture to the contexts of their own communities, families, and soil, GHI alumni Primitive and Anastasie -- and those around them -- continue to prosper.

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[1] “Market vegetables” refer to crops that are typically sold on the market, these vegetables generally generate comparatively greater revenue per unit sold

[2] GHI’s core nutrition model teaches a 4-color approach to selecting and preparing a balanced diet. Our “One Pot” model provides simple instructions to prepare a balanced meal in one hour using locally available resources.