Harvesting Hope: Transforming Health of Communities through Kitchen Gardening in South Suda

by Amref Health Africa

Step into the heart of South Sudan, where a powerful movement is taking root through Kitchen Gardening amidst the challenges of food insecurity and malnutrition. This centuries-old practice has become a cornerstone of nutritional empowerment across various health facilities as communities embrace a holistic approach to combating malnutrition. By cultivating a diverse array of vegetables such as okra, watermelon, eggplant, and tomatoes, households ensure access to vital nutrients and foster self-sufficiency and resilience.

In Tonj County, South Sudan, Amref Health Africa spearheads kitchen gardening initiatives at key health facilities as part of its Maternal, Infant, and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) efforts. The objective is clear: drive behavioural changes in feeding habits and promote year-round dietary diversity. Before seeds hit the soil, Amref’s Nutrition teams selected and trained 14 Mother-to-Mother Support Group members (MtMSG) members on all aspects of kitchen gardening and nutrition. These groups established kitchen gardens within 23 Health Facilities, serving as hubs for education on the importance of locally available vegetables. Collaborating with WFP, AICS, and UNICEF, Amref provides vital support, enabling these groups to share their knowledge and empower communities.

The success stories of Kacuat PHCU, Ngapagok PHCC, and Tonj South County highlight a common thread: the transformative impact of community-led initiatives centred around kitchen gardening. Through these endeavours, several key lessons have emerged. Community ownership and participation are paramount; involving stakeholders through initiatives like the MtMSG ensures community advocacy.

Approximately 140 individuals, including mothers and community leaders, participate in the MtMSGs. Additionally, 157 Community Nutrition Volunteers (CNVs) actively engage in promoting nutrition education and kitchen gardening initiatives within their respective communities. This inclusive approach ensures that diverse voices and perspectives are represented, strengthening community ownership and commitment to sustainable change.

Training sessions equipped participants with practical skills, showcasing remarkable improvement in understanding and applying kitchen gardening practices. This fosters confidence in making informed dietary choices and promotes healthier eating habits among families.

Beyond nourishing families, kitchen gardens serve as catalysts for economic empowerment, leveraging surplus produce for sale in local markets, and promoting long-term food security. The success of these initiatives transcends gender barriers, fostering inclusivity and collaboration within communities.

“We have acquired skills and knowledge from this participatory group for moms and can now share the knowledge with my fellow women in the community. Initially, I only knew how to grow sorghum and maize,” says Mrs Ajok. Women play a pivotal role in spearheading change, while efforts to engage men amplify the impact of these initiatives. In this community, everything is decided by men; it is therefore important to get men on board as well.”

Despite these successes, challenges remain. Pest infestations threaten garden productivity, while inadequate market infrastructure hinders the trading of surplus produce. Difficulty in engaging men poses challenges to promoting gender inclusivity. Addressing these challenges will require ongoing collaboration, innovative solutions, and adaptive strategies to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of kitchen gardening initiatives in South Sudan.

In Ngapagok, Achol Mador Gum’s embrace of kitchen gardening reflects the profound impact of community-led initiatives. Transforming a neglected space at home into a flourishing garden, Achol’s intervention increased the quantity of fresh produce available to her household, improving health and well-being. Surplus produce traded in local markets provided an additional income source, enhancing resilience and contributing to socio-economic development.

In South Sudan’s challenging landscape, kitchen gardens symbolize resilience, empowerment, and optimism. With committed community members and principles of community ownership, knowledge sharing, economic empowerment, gender inclusivity, and innovation, these initiatives transcend their role as mere sources of nourishment. They exemplify the power of collective action in fostering health and empowerment, nurturing a brighter future for generations to come.

Click HERE to download a report from the project.

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