Using kitchen gardens to improve nutrition and food security

Ghor is one of the poorest provinces in Afghanistan. At an altitude of 2700-3900m the growing season is short and, according to the Afghan Food Security Bulletin, 94% of people in the province suffer from low dietary diversity and very poor food consumption.  

Livelihoods are based on agriculture and livestock. Most arable land is rain-fed, with small patches of irrigated land in the valleys. Wheat is the main crop; alfalfa, clover, barley, potatoes and onions are also grown.  A winter with too little or too much snow leads to shortage of food due to drought or a shortened growing season. 
Climate change is of significant concern, as dry-land wheat farming fails when snowfall and/or spring rains are insufficient.  Vegetable production is limited and fruit is rare. In Lal district, soil erosion is an increasing problem due to over-grazing of livestock and over-harvesting of low scrub ground cover for domestic fuel.

Families that have land, plant wheat and/or potatoes and maybe a few onions but most do not produce enough food to last until the next harvest. The main staple food is wheat flat bread. Livestock is most often used for income and not consumption, although milk is used to make buttermilk, yogurt and krut (yogurt and salt rolled into balls and dried). Meat is usually only consumed at events like weddings, funerals or certain religious holidays.

Tearfund’s partner, IAM CDP, is beginning to introduce kitchen gardens to supplement this basic diet. The challenges faced are a short growing season, water shortages, lack of knowledge about how to grow a garden and a general lack of understanding about why vegetables are important.

Activities

Testing of vegetable varieties: this is a very important step to see which vegetables do best in the local environment and how to grow them successfully.

  • Planting: at the beginning of the project, seeds were provided to the communities free of charge but subsequently many families have been willing to buy them and are keen to invest time and energy into planting, watering and monitoring them.  Types of vegetable include carrots, pumpkin, squash, turnips, zucchini, onions, leaf lettuce, leeks and radishes.
  • Hot beds: (sections of gardens under plastic). The communities decided that each village should have one person managing a hot bed who is responsible for distributing the seedlings to others who would like them.  

Benefits

  1. Seedlings can be grown in the village for sustainability (they don’t need to import them anymore)
  2. Vegetables that need to start growing earlier in spring but that are not frost tolerant can be grown (eg tomatoes, cabbage, pak choi, Kale, Kohlrabi, cauliflower and broccoli)

Challenges

  1. A lot of supervision is still needed to ensure that they are properly maintained (e.g. watering, opening plastic when hot etc)
  2. Some of the caretakers seem to lack motivation because they don’t receive compensation when they give the plants to others in the village

Trickle irrigation: This was well received when it was introduced on a test basis.

Benefits

  1. Gardens use less water than if flood irrigated

Challenges

  1. It can be difficult to get all the components locally
  2. If ditch water is used, dirt blocks up the holes in the plastic water pipes
  3. People must be properly trained to use and maintain the systems

Training

  1. How to grow a garden - watering, protecting from animals (especially chickens) and plant spacing. 
  2. Cooking demonstrations - after harvest, cooking demonstrations are carried out to show how to cook the new vegetables
  3. Vegetable storage - preservation of seeds for planting the following year.

Widespread training is given on the importance of vegetables to contribute towards a healthy diet. In other training courses, like BLiSS (Birth Life saving skills), a short lesson on nutritional needs at special times is included.

Most people who have planted gardens enjoy eating the produce and have improved their diets. This year, more than 60 families were willing to purchase seeds and take the time to maintain their gardens well.

IAM CDP also works on an individual basis with families with malnourished children or pregnant women, helping them to improve their diets and general health.

Click here to view a printable PDF version of this Tearfund case study: Using Kitchen Gardens to improve nutrition and food security (PDF 79 KB)