Malawi: Backyard gardens provide fresh food for refugees 

| March 9, 2015

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You might expect that Dzaleka refugee camp would be chaotic and noisy. But all around the camp in central Malawi, there are striking scenes of women and men digging the soil in their plots.

Hanganimana Karisto fled the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. After six years of wandering from camp to camp, he and his family reached Dzaleka in 2000. The 41-year-old, his wife and his three children have lived in Malawi’s only refugee camp for 14 years.

Most occupants of the camp, 35 kilometres from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, grow fresh food in small gardens. The crops supplement their monthly food ration – a sack of maize and a bucket full of either beans or pigeon peas provided by the United Nations Refugee Agency.

The food rations help the refugees stay alive. But they contain few or no vegetables. In 2005, Mr. Karisto decided that he needed to supplement his family’s diet by growing vitamin-rich vegetables. He dug up as much of his plot as he could to create a backyard garden.

Like many other refugees, Mr. Karisto mainly grows Chinese cabbage, mustard and tomatoes. Fortunately, there is enough water to irrigate during the dry season. He says, “We plant soon after the rains and harvest for about two months before replanting and continuing the cycle.”

Mr. Karisto says that there is not enough land in the camp to grow more food than the family can eat. He would like to increase his production, but there’s little land and inadequate extension services in the camp. He says, “This is a refugee camp …  We do not have the freedom of land use. This impacts on our harvest negatively.”

Yamikani Kenala is the Agriculture Development Officer for Dowa District, where the refugee camp is located. He says refugees can access advice and training, and that extension services are provided to every corner of the country, including refugee camps. Mr. Kenala continues: “I would request the farmers to [ask for] assistance from our Agriculture Extension Officer within their area if they have any farming problems.”

Justin Akizimana is another resident of the camp who fled Rwanda during the genocide. He grows vegetables in his garden because he knows that vitamins are important for good health. Mr. Akizimana says: “If you see the rations we receive, it is mostly carbohydrates and protein foods. We need vitamins, and the vegetables in our small gardens help us achieve that.”