Rwanda: Women boost family health with backyard vegetable gardens (Fulgence Niyonagize, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| April 7, 2014

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Beside her beautiful new house in the Kamonyi district of southern Rwanda, Dativa Mukamana has created a vegetable garden. Madame Mukamana divides her colourful garden into small plots of eggplants, tomatoes, onions and peppers. She says: “I preferred to put vegetables in the garden because the space seemed very big and I saw no interest in all of the flowers which, apart from their beauty, do not bring anything to the family.”

Madame Mukamana, originally from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, had always dreamed of having a vegetable garden. She recalls, “Our townhouse didn’t have very much space around it, and whenever I bought vegetables at the market, I doubted their quality because they looked dirty.”

Since she started the garden, she eats fresh vegetables unlike those sold at the market, which are often wilted by the sun.

The garden has inspired her neighbours. Madame Umuhire Bénitha now harvests vegetables from her backyard, which had been left to grow wild.

Madame Umuhire says, “This seemingly small plot is big, considering how much I can harvest.” For the last six months, she has harvested tomatoes, cauliflower, onions, and spinach from her own garden. She buys vegetables from the market only when absolutely necessary.

Another local family recently planted their garden with vegetables. They too have reduced their food bills. Buying vegetables for lunch and dinner every day costs a lot of money. Before these families established their gardens, they spent more than 15,000 Rwandan francs [$22 US] each month. Not only are they now saving that money, the vegetable gardens save their children the time spent travelling to and from the market.

Having a vegetable garden means you are sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the harvest. The women give some of their vegetables to neighbours and friends, and also sell their surplus. [The first lady] says, “Recently I had an abundance of peppers and I sold them at the market. This meant that I could buy other needs without asking anything of my husband.”

Since 2006, the Rwandan government has encouraged Rwandans to set up kitchen gardens to address the malnutrition common in many families, and especially in children. Many families established kitchen gardens under pressure from the authorities, but have since scaled back their efforts or given up completely.

Christine Nyirandayisabye is the Executive Secretary of Runda village, a few kilometres west of Kigali. She says: “We encourage the people in our village to at least grow food in the kitchen garden at home [and] to maintain [the garden] for their own good and not to please the authorities.”

Christine Mukambugo agrees. Madame Mukambugo is a nutritionist who says a well-maintained kitchen garden can provide a balanced diet. She explains freshly harvested vegetables have increased flavour and nutritional quality. The vegetables are rich in nutrients such as vitamin A, which promotes growth and resistance to disease, vitamin C, which helps in bone formation, and vitamins E and F, which are important to bodily growth. Madame Mukambugo says that eating fresh vegetables means that families can “say goodbye to malnutrition in the family.”