The numerous advantages of sack gardening and growing drought-tolerant Navajo willows (see below) have been described earlier in postings on my desertification blog. We suggested to combine both methods/techniques (sacks and live trees) in order to solve a number of classical problems: drought, limited quantity of irrigation water, heat, UV-radiation, etc, killing a number of birds with one stone. Mona HATOUM’s splendid artwork and the positive news about gardening people in Nairobi, combating hunger, malnutrition and poverty with “sack gardening”, brought me to the idea that it must be possible to build a vertical vegetable garden as a Food Wall of stacked burlap (jute) sacks, filled with a mixture of dirt (or potting soil) and manure. Maybe adding a water absorbent soil conditioner (if cost is not a limiting factor!) can enhance the water retention capacity in the sacks.
In the midst of one of Africa’s largest slums, vegetables are growing.
It began as a French initiative to support jobless youth after a spasm of post-election violence in 2008 – and feed them at the same time.
The ‘garden-in-a-sack’ concept, introduced by the NGO Solidarites International, makes it possible to grow food in small spaces and save money for other purchases. In Mathare, Kiambiu and Kibera slums, with close to 3 million inhabitants, Solidarités has brought sack-gardening to about 22,109 households, directly benefitting over 110,000 people.
The upright urban farms in Kibera consist of a series of sacks filled with manure, soil and small stones that enable water to drain. From the tops and sides of these sacks, referred to as multi-story gardens, Kibera farmers grow kale, spinach, onions, tomatoes, vegetables and arrowroot which sprout from the tops and sides.
Today, Kibera has thousands of sack gardens spread across 16 villages in the slum, according to Douglas Kangi, principal agricultural officer on the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Project at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Across Africa, informal growing operations are expected to become critical in the coming years. With a constant stream of people leaving the farms for the cities, the continent’s urban population is set to top 700 million by 2030 up from 400 million today and 53 million in 1960, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
City farming, either in sacks or on small bits of land, has taken root in Cameroon, Malawi and Ghana with 25 to 50 percent of all city households said to be engaged in food cropping. In Malawi, 700,000 city dwellers have home gardens. In Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, some schools have their own gardening programmes.
Vertical Gardens Beat Soil Made Salty by Climate Change
Saltwater is shrinking Bangladesh’s arable land, but a simple approach of planting crops in containers shows surprising success
By Amy Yee
The soil in Chandipur village in southwest Bangladesh has become increasingly salty because of incursions of seawater. The situation became particularly acute in the aftermath of Cyclone Aila in 2009, which brought storm surges that broke embankments and flooded farmland. After 2009 vegetable crops planted in the ground there yielded only meager returns—if they didn’t fail completely.
But for the past three years hundreds of villagers have enjoyed the bounty of so-called vertical gardens—essentially crops grown in a variety of containers in backyards and on the rooftops of their humble homes. Despite their modest size, these gardens produce quite a bit.
Working with local nonprofits WorldFish trained about 200 villagers in four districts in saline-affected areas of southwestern Bangladesh to make vertical gardens. Others not in the program have copied their neighbors’ designs after seeing how well they worked. WorldFish plans to expand the program to include 5,000 people over the next two years.
Growing the vertical gardens is a relatively straightforward process. Villagers harvest soil after the rains, around November, and use it later during planting season. They put the soil into containers and mix it with fertilizer made of dried water hyacinth, soil, coconut husks and cow manure. The containers range from plastic rice and concrete sacks to large, specially constructed “towers” made of simple plastic sheets encased by bamboo rings.
To prevent waterlogging, the containers are raised off the ground on bricks and filled with brick chips that improve water circulation and drainage. Small holes are cut into the sides where short-rooted vegetables such as Indian spinach and tomatoes can grow. Long-rooted vegetables such as gourds grow on top. These sacks can produce up to eight kilograms of vegetables in one season with an investment of 100 to 150 taka (about $1.30 to $2) per bag. The tower variety of container measures more than 1.2 meters across and can produce more than 100 kilograms of vegetables. One tower requires an investment of about 900 to 1,000 taka (around $11.50 to $13.00) to buy materials and seeds. WorldFish provides seeds and some materials to villagers in the first year.
INTRODUCING SACKS GARDENING TO COMBAT HUNGER AND POVERTY
by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem – University of Ghent (Belgium)
Smallholders and rural producers have a vital role to play in overcoming global hunger and poverty, and new and varied partnerships are needed, with particular emphasis on the interests of women, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on February 17th, 2010. He also confirmed that the growing international recognition of the role of agriculture and rural development in poverty reduction is helping to build the Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition.
Despite the hardships of the global recession, one saw an upturn in investment in agriculture, along with promises from world leaders of large additional increases over the next years, he said, thereby underscoring that “we need to continue creating diverse and innovative partnerships that can help people and communities achieve greater productivity, nutritional health and self-reliance. In this respect we must give pre-eminence to the interests of women, who juggle their time between food production, processing, marketing, child care and balancing the household budget”.
In every developing country people are suffering from the high food prices.
Taking into account that most of the rural women in the drylands spend the major part of their daily life with small-scale agricultural activities, it goes without saying that, when creating diverse and innovative partnerships that can help people and communities achieve greater productivity, the best return on investment will come from the creation of small kitchen gardens close to their houses.
There is no need to offer them some financial resources. Funding to start up a family garden can be done as a “micro-credit”, not with a certain sum of money, but in the form of the necessary materials and equipment. Success stories have shown that, in rural areas, offering a family garden to women is the easiest and most efficient way to combat hunger and poverty.
However, in urban areas the situation is quite different. With their extremely low income and having barely a patch of arable land, many of the urban families are confronted with some form of hunger and malnutrition. In Nairobi (Kenya), hundreds of residents of the slums have adopted a new form of intensive gardening: growing vegetables and herbs in sacks.
Previously, women in densely populated cities planted vegetables on small plots of barren land. Nowadays, the novel form of gardening in sacks or all kinds of containers can be introduced in every urban area. Indeed, as finding even small patches of arable land in a city or a town is becoming almost impossible, sacks or other containers, taking up less space than small-scale gardens, are an interesting solution for food production.
With only a small budget, NGOs can easily start up a sacks gardening project with a small number of women and later extend invitations to more women, and even schools, to join the group. This seems to be a fantastic way for almost every urban family or school to have access to affordable vegetables, herbs and fruits.
Wherever needed, a short training in sacks gardening can be planned. Women and children can learn in the shortest time these simple gardening techniques of container gardening, in particular those of water harvesting, soil fertilization and adequate irrigation.
As sacks gardening can provide a sustainable source of vegetables and fruits, one can foresee a growing success of this novel form of gardening both in rural and in urban areas. NGOs and foundations can help women and schools to fence their gardening plots and to store irrigation water (not drinking water).
With a limited number of sacks of vegetables family members or school children do not fear to be hungry. It would be a remarkably easy way of food production in refugee camps, where every family could have a small number of sacks close to the tent.
The success of similar projects in developing countries on all continents should encourage NGOs, foundations, banks and international agencies like FAO, WFP and UNHCR to invest in this efficient way of combating hunger and poverty.
If there is really a growing international recognition of the role of agriculture and rural development in poverty reduction, helping to build the Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, along with promises from world leaders of large additional increases over the next years, like Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said, then it should not be so difficult to set up a programme to promote sacks gardening at a global level.
Living in Vabanipur village in Bangladesh’s Malulavi Bazaar District, Ainob Bibi has struggled to feed her four children. Without land, and living close to Hakaluki Haor – a large wetland area in eastern Bangladesh that is flooded for five to six months of the year – Bibi could not grow vegetables or other crops. After hearing about a new ‘sack gardening’ technology from the NGO Friends in Village Development Bangladesh (FIVDB), Bibi started with five sacks containing green spinach seedlings. After only 20 days she harvested six kilos, harvesting another five kilos a week later. Today she also grows naga chilli, which she can sell. By growing different vegetables, Bibi is able to supply her own family and earn money. As a result, a number of her neighbours have also taken up the practice.
Vegetables are an essential source of nutrition for a sound and healthy body, but in Bangladesh two out of every three children born are underweight due to malnutrition; millions also suffer from night blindness, each year vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affecting 300,000 people. Malnutrition also reduces a person’s ability to do sustained work. In Kenya and Uganda, the French NGO Solidarités developed ‘sack gardening’ where tall, earth-filled sacks sprout kale, spinach, herbs and onions from the tops and sides. In 2010, with help from Solidarités, the ‘garden-in-a-sack’ concept was introduced in Sylhet, Maulvi Bazar, Brahmanbaria and Dhaka districts by FIVDB.
In Bangladesh, most poor people, like Bibi, don’t have enough land to cultivate vegetables conventionally. Sack gardening does not require much space and vegetables can be grown according to demand and taste. The bags are also easy to move, which is important for families living on ‘char’ lands (flood prone areas) and riverbanks, who are often forced to move as villages are inundated.
Today, all over the developed world, important parts of the population are combating the economic crisis and in particular the food crisis by switching to production of fresh food. Produced at home, even in the smallest quantities, this “own fresh food” plays a considerable role in the well-being of families, in particular of children. Container gardening, vertical gardening, bottle towers, gardening on risers, balconies or windowsills, hydroponics, aquaponics, gardening in self-watering buckets, bags, sacks, crates, boxes, pots, guerilla gardening, edible forests, …, it are all different initiatives taken to alleviate hunger and malnutrition problems.
Day after day, messages and photos or videos on the internet confirm that people feel the need to produce their own fresh food, even in the smallest available space, e.g. a balcony on the 17th floor in the city. It is marvelous to notice that most of these “novice farmers or gardeners” proudly announce the successes of their first experiments and the swift progress made thanks to “lessons learned” and “exchange of information”.
Thanks to these personal initiatives of private gardening, the most vulnerable part of the population in developed countries is less affected by the food crisis, in particular by the high food prices.
Therefore, I feel the need to formulate a very simple question :
“If a large group of people in developed countries, affected by the actual crises and suffering from hunger or malnutrition because of the high food prices, is successfully setting up actions to produce an important part of their own food, why don’t we teach the billion hungry people, mostly living in developing countries, to do the same ?”.
The answer to this question seems to be a very difficult one.
My Chinese friends are telling me : “Don’t bring that hungry man a fish that he will eat in one day, but teach him how to fish and he will eat all year long“.
As Chinese is not my mother tongue, I translated it into : “Don’t bring the hungry people rations of nutritious food that they will eat in one day, but teach them how to grow their own fresh food and they will eat all year long”.
Purely by coincidence I found today these 3 publications confirming that food production has become a very hot topic all over the world. Please read :