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African Women Respond to Covid-19 Hunger Emergency

 Viewpoint by Linda Eckerbom Cole

The writer is Director/Founder, African Women Rising, shuttles between Santa Barbara, California and Gulu, Uganda.

SANTA BARBARA, California (IDN) – African Women Rising (AWR) has created a campaign to build 2,000 new Permagardens, which will help feed 15,000 at-risk people who are experiencing food scarcity due to COVID-19. Permagardens empower communities to meet their own food needs and are a long-term solution to hunger. JAPANESE | PORTUGUESE

Margaret has not been able to sell her fish at the local market for two months now. The restrictions put in place to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in Northern Uganda have had devastating consequences for her and her household. With no other income, the family is struggling.

Margaret is old and doesn’t have the strength to work in the field. Her husband is blind and not healthy, leaving Margaret as the primary caretaker and breadwinner for the eight grandchildren in their care. They have reduced food intake to once a day.

This is the situation for many of the women in the communities where African Women Rising works.

The restrictions are also affecting the 1.4 million South Sudanese refugees in the region as they are unable to access markets, agricultural fields or other sources of income. To compound the situation, the World Food Program (WFP) has reduced food distributions due to lack of funding. Refugees receive food once a month, but it only last two weeks.

As a response, African Women Rising is rapidly increasing the scale of our Permagarden program to reach the most vulnerable and food-insecure families both in the refugee camps and in the host communities. A Permagarden is a proven, regenerative approach that can start producing food within two weeks and can support a family for years to come.

More than teaching techniques, African Women Rising’s Resilience Design Field Crop and Permagarden programs are about sharing the principles behind water and soil management and developing a contextual understanding to design a system to be as productive and regenerative as possible. AWR’s programs have 24 different agroecology-focused indicators they track.

The overall goal of the Permagarden Program is to increase access to diverse and nutritious sources and adequate quantities of vegetables and fruit throughout the year. Farmers do this through the design and establishment of small Permagardens around their home.

The Permagarden method combines components of permaculture – an agricultural approach using design principles to utilise natural systems for production – and bio-intensive agriculture, a farming approach that maximises crop production through sustainable practices that increase biodiversity, to create a highly productive garden and homestead compound.

It is designed to work in both the rainy and dry seasons and is a whole compound approach that improves soil fertility and water management to produce nutritious crops. The method shows how farmers with only a small amount of land can produce food throughout the year by learning principles behind proper gardening and resource management and matching those principles to fundamental practices.

The approach helps meet the short-term food needs of program farmers even as it builds their long-term resilience. Farmers learn to manage natural resources through the intentional design of their compound, harvesting water and capturing waste streams to enhance the fertility and productivity of their plots.

The management of existing trees and planting of other fruit and multipurpose trees, a living fence and other biomass plantings provide materials for building, pest remedies, dry season nutrition and medicine. This helps reduce pressures on the environment – such as the collection of fuelwood, gathering of wild foods, burning of charcoal – that will continue to worsen as time goes on.

To reach 2,000 more vulnerable families (impacting upwards of 15,000 individuals), we need to raise $200,000.

The cost of one garden is only $100. This includes:

  • three separate pieces of training each lasting three days,
  • seeds and fruit trees, and
  • monthly visits and technical support for one year

Mary started her Permagarden in 2014. As a landless widow was taking care of four grandchildren, her life can be a challenge. Her Permagarden is right next to the house and bursts with production throughout the year. She grows papaya, tomatoes, pumpkins, four kinds of leafy greens, onions, yams, peppers, okra, passion fruit and citrus.

On 15’x15’ she can produce enough always to have something to eat. There is even extra food that she has been selling at the market and to neighbours. With that weekly income, she has been able to buy essential items such as salt, soap and school supplies. She has also invested in chickens and goats.

Mary’s success is not an exception. Results like these are standard in our Permagarden program, and we have data to prove it. Families become food secure, have new income, can invest in assets, can send children to school and pay for medical care. The Permagardens can provide relief in time of instability, assistance that is not merely a Band-Aid but offers long-term solutions.

Help us spread Mary’s success to those who need it most. Your support can go a long way to ensure that women like Margaret have the tools and skills they need to provide for their families now and well into the future.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Uganda has been effectively shut down. We have temporarily closed our programs, except for an increase in targeted, regenerative agricultural activities to ensure people have access to food.

Our staff have been redeployed into COVID-19 response, especially in the refugee camps. There are 1.4 million refugees in 11 camps in Northern Uganda. An outbreak in the camps would lead to a humanitarian disaster. In addition to the Permagarden programs, African Women Rising is distributing soap, installing hand washing stations and providing information on how to keep the virus from spreading. This is a critical emergency. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 June 2020]

Photo (top): Margaret with one of her granddaughters. Credit: Brian Hodges for African Women Rising.

Photo (in Text): Mary in her Permagarden. Credit: Brian Hodges for African Women Rising.

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