Kitchen Gardens Feed the Future in Sudan

Marem Tiben’s three children love “asida,” a doughy dumpling served with vegetables such as okra and tomatoes. But the dish was a rare treat until Ms. Tiben planted her own garden.

“My kitchen garden gives me fresh vegetables for cooking,” she said, adding that these days she also serves her family vegetable soup and salads with greens such as purslane and mallow.

Like roughly one-sixth of all Zamzam residents, Ms. Tiben’s children suffered from acute malnutrition. She enrolled them in Relief International’s observed feeding program, where emergency care and supplements revived them. But combatting chronic malnutrition, the kind that plagues much of Sudan, calls for integrated, innovative solutions. Enter kitchen gardens.

In August 2015, Relief International established five demonstration plots in Zamzam to train the families of malnourished children to plant, grow and harvest their own vegetables. Vegetables are both scarce and expensive in the camp, forcing residents into a static diet of grains that breeds malnutrition. The opportunity to grow their own tomatoes, kale, okra, cucumber, eggplant and other vegetables lands dietary diversity — and its nutritional benefits — at their doorsteps.

“The gardens are a great way to change thinking,” says Relief International field monitor Asra Adam.

Relief International is the only organization offering kitchen gardens as part of an integrated approach to fighting malnutrition. During Relief International’s three-day course, Ms. Adam offers Zamzam residents individual guidance on cultivating soil, planting seeds, watering, harvesting and maximizing yield. Many residents have little access to land, and if they do, during the dry season they still have trouble growing nutrient rich-produce. The trick is to grow food in the tiny spaces allotted — sometimes in just a tall, soil-filled sack that requires little water.  

More than 600 camp residents have started gardens. Fewer than five have suffered a second bout of malnutrition. Some kitchen gardeners are so successful, they have surplus to sell at Zamzam’s markets. Ms. Tiben makes as much as 200SGD/$33 per week — enough to buy a weeks’ worth of sugar, cooking oil, or other items that vary her family’s diet even further.

As residents master the art of small-space gardening, they also attend nutrition education classes that stress the importance of dietary diversity and micronutrients. Add to that Relief International’s work in water, sanitation and hygiene — think rehabilitated pumps, clean water distribution systems and latrines designed according to community feedback — and you’ve got a recipe for families that get healthy and stay healthy.

“My kitchen garden allows me to depend on myself,” Ms. Tiben said. “My family’s health will be very good and we can use the income from kitchen garden for schools fees.”