Mar 4, 2020

Tools for a Livelihood: The Family Gardens Project

Mangloris shows off a beet from the garden.
Mangloris shows off a beet from the garden.

Hi folks,

This month’s update comes from our partnership with Habitat for Humanity in western Guatemala and features our Rotarians Against Hunger seed grant program. Habitat Guatemala founded the Family Gardens Project in 2013 to help establish and improve family and community gardens as a way to address malnutrition and poverty. In 2014, Habitat Guatemala worked closely with the community to expand their Family Gardens Project to El Canaque, San Marcos.

We know that only starting a garden is not enough. Disadvantages like malnutrition and poverty often stem from restricted access to resources and a lack of knowledge about how to use those resources. After the gardens were established, Habitat Guatemala offered families and communities training on the organic production of vegetables and seeds — that is, a way to expand the use of the original resources and the resources provided by these gardens.

During the initial phase, malnutrition in the community was reduced by 52%. Several community members were also inspired to found a bio-factory that prepares and sells different organic inputs and products, the Bio-fabrica. The challenges faced by these communities are not gone, but this project has provided resources and education to develop new tools that can help provide for fundamental human needs like nutritious food and income. 

Mangloris: Strengthening Families & Communities
Mangloris joined Habitat Guatemala’s Family Gardens Project when it opened in 2014. A mother living with her husband and five children in the El Canaque community, she tended a small family garden prior to participating in the community project. Mangloris has since become deeply involved in the communal garden and currently serves on the local Health Committee. Describing some of what she’s accomplished through the project, she shares:

“Through the support of the organizations and our own means, we have learned and improved as a family and team. We have harvested big crops of carrots, onions and trees to sell abroad. ... We started working on our own, and bought new seeds and other items to keep on growing and growing. The main goal of the project was to teach us how to work on our own, and now we are ready.”

Mangloris describes two important aspects of garden projects — they’re collaborative, and they’re hard work. Seeds are a resource that only bear fruit (or vegetables) when people can readily access everything needed to nurture that seed from sowing through harvest. When nurtured, seeds and education can provide a livelihood that provides family nutrition and income. Income is critical because it’s versatile. It can provide access to supplemental foods, improve gardening methods, and it supports the local economy that other community members rely on for their own livelihood. In short, programs like Habitat Guatemala’s Family Gardens Project improve people’s quality of life and help people gain more power over their own lives.

Six years into the project, Mangloris describes how she and her family have applied the principles learned through the project.

“We learned to use every part of the vegetables that we grow by cooking them in different recipes for our children. We also use the seeds from the vegetables for future harvests. ... It has been a great experience, because we have learned, grown and worked together! It has not been an easy road. But we continue moving forward. My dream is that one day, we will be selling all of our products in different towns.”

In 2019, Habitat Guatemala partnered with Seed Programs International in support of the Family Gardens Project as part of our Rotarians Against Hunger seed grant program. Rotarians Against Hunger is led by US Western North Carolina-based Rotary Clubs in Rotary District 7670. This program grants vegetable seeds to partners worldwide who are involved with nutrition, education, and income development projects.

Asked about the seeds supplied by Seed Programs International through the Rotarians Against Hunger program, she says, “The radishes grew really big! I prepared them in different dishes for my children and they loved it! We learned how to take full advantage of everything here, and now, all of the products are growing properly.”

Dreaming Big
So, what does the future look like for Mangloris?

“My dream is to keep working as a team. We need to work together as a community to continue improving. And I am hoping to keep working with Habitat Guatemala and America Solidaria too. I want to keep on dreaming and dreaming big! I have always enjoyed working with communities, motivating my team and showing them how to keep on dreaming to expand and grow.”

Your support of this project makes these partnerships possible. We cannot do our part without the support of folks like you who have contributed your resources in support of our own. You have the sincere gratitude of our team, and from Mangloris:

“We are very grateful for the seeds! They have been of great use to all of us. We have harvested and eaten them already. Thank you and may God bless you.”

— Team SPI

  

Mangloris in the Habitat Guatemala garden.
Mangloris in the Habitat Guatemala garden.
Carrots! Kids! The garden has everything!
Carrots! Kids! The garden has everything!
Touring the Habitat Guatemala community garden.
Touring the Habitat Guatemala community garden.
Dec 23, 2019

CEPUDO: Expertise in Honduras

Cucumber harvest in Siguatepeque, Germania.
Cucumber harvest in Siguatepeque, Germania.

Hi folks,

Today’s update comes from CEPUDO (Capacitación, Educación, Producción, Unificación, Desarrollo y Organización) and Food for the Poor in Honduras. CEPUDO serves some of the poorest communities in Honduras with programs that touch everyone from infants to elders. Their program areas include: agriculture, educational centers and schools, community development, water projects, health, training and recreation centers, and more. Specific programs like CEPUDITO and CEPUDO Teens and focus on developing a sense of social responsibility in youth and school age children so they can become change agents in their homes, schools, and communities.

CEPUDO’s agricultural programs are supported by their local staff agronomist and Food for the Poor. Food for the Poor networks CEPUDO with local seed vendors in addition to providing access to SPI seeds. Combining local seed sources with SPI seed offers a nutritionally diverse program that can be adapted to the different regional climates of Honduras.

This work could not be done without the expertise of local leaders who are familiar with the region, and the projects and partners that are working within those regions. CEPUDO determined that SPI seeds were best adapted for the western part of the country where they host projects that provide nutrition and income for families and communities. Because local leaders are familiar with the communities that live in these regions, they knew how best to share the seeds. Describing a recent distribution, they write:

“The seeds were selected and distributed according to the weather conditions of each zone of the country where the beneficiaries are located. For example, in...the Juan Orlando Hernandez and El Rondon communities, we distributed chayote (squash), tomato, pepper, onion, cucumber and watermelon seeds because the zone where these communities are located is tropical. At the coffee project, located in different communities of the Marcala municipality, we distributed and planted chayote, carrot, cabbage, tomato and pepper seeds because this zone has cooler and wet weather.

The beneficiaries plant the seeds they receive gradually, focusing on one product at a time. Pepper, tomato and onion seeds are first planted in trays then transplanted into the ground, but cucumber and chayote seeds are planted directly in the ground in the garden and/or community project.

Some of the plants are now flowering and in the vegetable development stage, such as the tomatoes and peppers. They already have vegetables, but may not be ready to harvest.

However, due to various weather zones the chayote (Calabaza-Ayote) vegetables develop faster than the rest. Additionally, Hondurans traditionally eat green chayotes that haven’t reached their maturity stage in soups, stews and porridge for babies.”

School Gardens in Siguatepeque and La Campa
School gardens in Siguatepeque, Comayagua and La Campa, Lempira provide a space for students and the broader community to learn about new varieties and techniques while growing nutritious vegetables that address hunger and health. These school gardens are also classrooms for entrepreneurial initiatives that can provide livelihoods for a new generation of farmers.

The photos attached to this report shows students and community members preparing the soil, planting seeds, setting up irrigation, and tending the maturing plants. All of these activities are part of a structured program coordinated by CEPUDO, their agronomists, and Food for the Poor.

CEPUDO writes, “We feel very thankful because the seeds you provide us serve to improve the life conditions of our participants. The seeds were well received and [supplied] the people in need. From our organization and beneficiaries we feel really grateful. Thank you for all the support and help you give us, we pray that God continues blessing you in incredible ways.”

Food for the Poor closes the report with gratitude, and sums up the essence of this project: “Thank you for your efforts with this invaluable donation of seeds. More than that, it is an opportunity to learn to work and eat from the natural resources available. Additionally, it offers a chance to learn a trade and become entrepreneurial within the agricultural industry — helping one family at a time generate income and come out of poverty.”

For CEPUDO, Food for the Poor, and the team here at SPI, thank you. Your support makes collaborations like this possible and helps to ensure that a new generation has access to nutrition, knowledge, and livelihoods.

— The SPI Team

Preparing the soil in La Campa, Campira.
Preparing the soil in La Campa, Campira.
Irrigating the garden.
Irrigating the garden.
Maintaining the plants.
Maintaining the plants.
Dec 9, 2019

This Work Is a Process: Growing Expertise in Rwanda

A family garden plot in Rwanda.
A family garden plot in Rwanda.

Hi folks,

Today’s update comes from Bob Kacvinsky, an agronomist and longtime SPI partner. It’s a rare treat for us to receive such a detailed report of seed distribution and training. We often say that our resources are not a handout. Gardening is hard work, and Bob’s report is a good illustration of the planning that goes into a good program. Bob’s lifelong work shows how a collaboration between local leaders and our partners can provide a community with a level of expertise that will sustain them for generations to come. Rather than summarizing Bob’s work, we’ll share a series of excerpts from his report:

In late March-early April of 2019, a group from Bethel Lutheran Church, Madison, WI traveled to Kigali Rwanda on a mission trip through PICO/Faith in Action International. The host for the trip was Pastor John Rutsindintwarane, Faith in Action coordinator in Rwanda, whose mission is to create networks for community development and improvements. PICO has been rebranded as Faith in Action International.

Rwanda is a small country in east central Africa about the size of Maryland. It is a mountainous geography with steep hills and an average elevation of 5500 feet, resulting in a temporal climate with lows in the 60’s and highs typically in the 80’s to low 90’s even though it is just south of the equator. The capital is Kigali (+1.5 million) and served as our home base.

In the rural communities the focus is on education, employment which involves cottage industries such as brick/clay roof tiles kilns, but for the most part food production. The steep hillsides are heavily terraced for production from tropical fruits (bananas, plantain, mangos, avocados, etc.) and vegetables. Some lowland river valleys support white rice production; the upper mountains in western sections had extensive black tea production of which 97% is exported. Common vegetables included root crops like potatoes (including a white sweet potato), taro, carrots along with peppers, tomatoes, legumes, and several types of leafy cabbage, spinach, and amaranthus species.

Much of the ground is either government owned or operated by community cooperatives that collectively work, grow, and market the produce. Village farmer markets flourish and the youthful general population nutrition seems to be quite good. Diets consist of some meat (goat with some beef), dairy, fruit, and vegetables. Vegetables were one of the focuses of the mission projects. 

Locally grown seed is best but is not always available, especially if access to local knowledge is limited. In 2007 I connected with Seed Programs International that reprocesses vegetable seeds for global mission support. Over the past 12 years I have distributed 5400 packets of vegetable seeds to Honduras, Tanzania, and now Rwanda. 

For the Rwanda trip [we worked with] 100 packets each of Cabbage, Carrot, Chinese Cabbage, Lettuce, Yellow and White Onion, Bell Pepper, Hot Pepper, Radish, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, and white and orange marigold flowers for a beautification project along the new airport road. 

During the 2019 Rwanda mission trip, I was able to conduct four separate training projects. … The first seminar included basic nutrition training, diversity chart, brief example of the destruction from tuta absoluta to tomatoes, and examples of vegetable seed packets (SPI) that will be available to villagers. Normal planting timing cycles with the wet season that begins in early September. Pastor Alexis invited the local province administrators to the seminar.

On the following Sunday morning after joining the village of Nyamata for church service, the village broke into two groups. The first group joined me for a demonstration of planting a small family garden. Garden preparation including digging out a foot of soil, fracturing the second foot for easier root penetration, then mixed compost/cow manure into the top foot of soil and replaced it. The purpose was to create a slightly raised bed, compost as fertilizer, and create an area wide enough to reach for planting, weeding, and harvest without any physical traffic. By eliminating traffic there is limited compaction so the garden bed can be used for continued cycles without heavy tillage. The young lady was the caretaker of the garden although all the surrounding people participated in the training. We planted 4 different vegetables on that day to use as education on diversity and spreading out crop risks. 

[A] photo was sent to me of the garden we planted. Note the thin crop and sticks lined the sides. Apparently they had a goat issue and lost much of the first planting to their goats until they erected a stick fence. A learning experience that will help for the September planting season.

The...photo includes the village planting ornamental plants along with the marigold flower seeds from SPI as a beautification project along the new airport highway. The project was part of their beautification project along the new highway. The project was approved by the Provincial Administration. This networking process is by design to get “everyone’s buy in” and sets up a contract /commitment to follow through.

The third nutrition/gardening training was held at Nyange Village in Ngororero Province. The village is located high up along a ridge between two beautiful valleys of terraced potato, vegetable, and fruit production. The valley vegetable production is coordinated by the village leaders and worked collectively. The group gathered on a grassy hill under the shade of tall cypress trees providing a perfect backdrop for a mountain top experience. 

The village community had built a clay firing kiln for the production of clay bricks and roof tiles. The kiln was 6’ wide by 30’ long and almost 20’ deep. The clay used to make the pottery was located at the bottom of one of the valleys about 500’ in elevation below a very steep pathway. 

The vegetable training included nutrition background from diversifying vegetables around both nutrition and spreading out risks. We provided samples of the seed packets from SPI to the leaders and the rest of the seed would be distributed closer to the planting season in late August. This concept was new to the group but they were very receptive. After the training we had several conversations and gathered for a group photo with the community leaders. The President of the group had been circulating within the group and presented to me the hand written contract that they committed to implementing the training into their vegetable production practices along with the SPI seeds. This is a common practice within their culture as a thank you and compliment to the visiting teacher. Today that photo and contract is prominently displayed on my office wall.

The final training program was held at a school in Rwanagana in east central Rwanda province. The students were 11-12th grade college prep group focused on Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. The students participated by becoming soil nutrients and they formed H2O, CO2, Glucose, and simple amino acids as building blocks of life using sunlight as the source of energy to fuel the process. Most of these students will be going onto college and 2 of them were applying to the Un of Nebraska under a special exchange program.

Only a few packets of seeds were distributed as examples and training materials. During the following months till September Pastor John will be distributing the remaining seed packets as he uses the laminated training materials provided to continue and reinforce the process. I have received a photo from the garden planted in Nyamata with several vegetable plants growing. The plants were thinned due to local goats having a lunch break before a makeshift fence was constructed. Mission work is a process, not an end all.

Bob’s final sentence says it all — this work is a process, not an end. The commitment required to establish or grow a community’s expertise is great, and it cannot be made by our partners alone. As Bob shows, collaborating with local leaders and eliciting a community’s buy-in is critical. We hope his report has given you a good picture of what a local context looks like.


We’re grateful to Bob for his work, and we are grateful to you for your support of Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa. From all of us, and for Bob and all those who gained access to training and seeds because of this project, thank you.

— The SPI Team

Demonstration of planting a small family garden.
Demonstration of planting a small family garden.
Bob conducting a student training in Rwanagana.
Bob conducting a student training in Rwanagana.
 
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