Africa Aims to Grow 1,000 Organic Gardens

Through Slow Food’s A Thousand Gardens in Africa project, communities are learning to grow food in a healthy, sustainable way.

by Dani Yokhna
School, community and family gardens are being established across Africa as part of Slow Food International's A Thousand Gardens in Africa project. Photo courtesy Paola Viesi/Slow Food International (
Courtesy Paola Viesi/Slow Food International
School, community and family gardens, like this one in Uganda, are being established across Africa as part of Slow Food International’s A Thousand Gardens in Africa project.

As hobby farmers in the U.S. battle drought this season, the activities of farmers abroad might be the farthest things from their minds. But as U.S. farmers choose the best crops to grow in their regions and nurture the plants using organic growing methods, their counterparts in Africa are doing the exact same thing.

Thanks to Slow Food International’s A Thousand Gardens in Africa project, farmers in Africa are working with their communities to grow sustainable gardens that benefit their local environmental, socioeconomic and cultural conditions. The gardens are grown according to the philosophy “Good, Clean and Fair,” meaning their gardening practices:

  • yield fresh produce and promote local products
  • safeguard traditional recipes
  • produce quality food products in surplus seasons
  • are sustainable and promote biodiversity
  • bring together people from various generations and social groups, particularly women
  • improve farmer skills and knowledge
  • encourage food sovereignty

The gardens, concentrated in 17 African countries within the Slow Food Terra Madre network, are slowly expanding throughout Africa. Currently 630 gardens have been adopted across 25 countries.

Kenya alone has been allocated 200 gardens, according to Priscilla Nzamalu, leader of Slow Food’s Kibwezi convivium in the country’s Eastern Province. She oversees 16 of these gardens, including six school gardens, three family gardens and seven community gardens.

“Training of surrounding communities on the importance of organic and local foods has been of help to the surrounding community,” Nzamalu says. “People can plant their own medicinal plants, herbs for herbal teas and medicine, as well as companion plants for pest and disease control.”

In addition to teaching the community members new agricultural methods, such as ally cropping and agroforestry, the gardens have been a way for the members to create a sense of community, become self-sufficient and preserve the local seed tradition.

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Hobby farmers stateside might not see the immediate impact of helping their farmer friends across the ocean, but according to former Slow Food USA president Josh Viertel, supporting this endeavor can help transform the food and farming system worldwide.

“Historically, in the U.S., we’ve fought global hunger by growing cheap grain and dumping it on foreign markets,” Viertel says. “In the end, we’ve just displaced farmers in developing countries and created more poverty and hunger. We need solutions that give people the resources they need to feed themselves. We are helping to build 1,000 gardens in Africa that prove it’s possible.”

Each African garden costs approximately $1,300 to build, depending on the area’s resources and needs, and hobby farmers in the U.S. can donate any amount to support the initiative.

“One of our biggest challenges [in Kenya] is water harvesting and water-use efficiency,” Nzamalu says of the arid to semi-arid climate where she lives and gardens. “Water tanks for harvesting rain water and drip kits are a bit expensive for [residents].”

In her area, a lot of the money received to start the gardens will be used to purchase water-harvesting equipment, like a water tank, as well as other equipment, including water runways, water pumps, cultivation tools, pruning tools, potting materials and compost.

While not everyone who donates to the initiative is directly connected to a garden in Africa, those who donate funding to build or maintain an entire garden are given the opportunity to develop a greater relationship with that garden through a twinning arrangement.

Visit the Thousand Gardens in Africa website to learn more about how you can participate.


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