Sunday, March 04, 2007

SWAZILAND: Community gardens flourish to feed the vulnerable

Via: IRIN PlusNews
Picture: UNICEF Swaziland/2005

NGOs in Swaziland are shifting the emphasis of their operations from handouts of donated foodstuffs to training households and communities to set up projects that produce food and generate income, to find a lasting solution to perennial food shortages.

"AIDS has made food security more difficult to achieve. You cannot separate food from health. People living with HIV/AIDS require food to boost their strength: antiretroviral drugs must be taken after nourishment," said Sibongile Hlope, Director of the Baphalali Red Cross Society. "We do give food assistance to children: a 50kg bag of maizemeal, 10kg of corn-soya blend that is rich in protein, five kg of beans and three bottles cooking oil every month," said food coordinator Kunene.

"More people require food assistance; that is why we are also doing community gardens," said Kunene, who supervises six community gardens around the Sigumbeni settlement, about one hour's drive southeast of the capital, Mbabane. "There is a problem with irrigation affordability, especially with our communal gardens. They all depend on rain - but even with proper watering, the hot weather harms the crops. The heat brings pests, but we discourage [these by] using pesticides - we don't want people consuming chemicals."

Besides food production and income generation the gardens are also social gathering spots for HIV-positive people and AIDS-affected families, who comprise the bulk of the volunteers who till, weed, water and harvest. Until recently, HIV-positive people were stigmatised in their villages, and support organisations for HIV-positive people were located in some towns but rarely in rural areas.

"The communal gardens allow HIV-positive people to discuss matters important to them, and be with other HIV-positive people. They get out of the house, and they take charge of one part of their lives," Kunene said. Volunteers working in the gardens divide the food amongst themselves and the vulnerable children in the area. Some fields are even large enough to generate food surpluses, which are sold and the profits divided among the workers.

In Zandondo, a settlement in the northern Hhohho Region, one community donated a 28.5ha field for this purpose. "Last year one field provided school uniforms and basic school supplies to area orphans. We expect other fields to follow suit when this year's harvests come in, starting in May," said Kunene.

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