South Africa: Permagardening Helps People Living with HIV/AIDS Ensure Healthy Nutrition and Generate Income (December 2010)

United States Peace Corps Volunteer Melanie Sander shares her experience of how a rural community not only generated income for itself through gardening, but also ensured healthy nutrition for its HIV-positive members.

What a change a few extra steps made to the gardens here in Digwale, Mpumalanga Province in South Africa. My counterpart, Mabel Boshielo, and I set out to transform the way people think about their ability to provide abundant fresh vegetables from their own yard. Our mission was to help the HIV/AIDS support group in Digwale to start an income generation project involving a garden.

The journey started when we attended a three day workshop led by Peter Jensen, Permagarden trainer from Peace Corps, Tanzania. Permagardening is a gardening technique that helps individual home gardens become self-sustainable by taking into consideration rainfall, erosion, soil fertility and food security. Peter's introduction session was enough to bring us enormous amounts of hope. We knew that there was an amazing, yet busy road ahead of us. And before we knew it, we were back in Digwale telling everyone about this "new" way of gardening.

Unfortunately, two employees of our organization had participated in a permagarden workshop previously, and they initially didn't like the method. Michael Malaza said: "It's too much work and it doesn't work." However, Mabel and I were not about to give up. While the initial soil preparation is more intensive than conventional farming, we knew that if we could demonstrate the improvements, we could convince others to try out the technique as well.

After some time, the plants began to grow and the garden spoke for itself; there was no way to deny the improvement. The beds that we worked on using the techniques at the workshop started to generate income sooner than the conventional garden beds that were planted at the same time.

While it took time for Michael Malaza to give permagardening another chance, he has since had a change of heart, and we have been working side by side ever since. He remarked: "I now own four permagarden beds. I planted beetroot, onion, and also spinach. My vegetables grow very fast. It looks very good and it is fresh. It's a surprise for me."

Through the Volunteer Activity Support and Training grants funding supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the support group's garden has more than 30 beds with an additional 10 in progress. They have just completed their first harvest and are preparing for a second. The group has found inspiration in their ability to produce fresh vegetables, and make a little income in the process. Several of the members have started separate permagardens at their homes.

The success of the project allowed the Digwale community to receive additional funding from the U.S. Government to train 90 people from households with orphans and vulnerable children on permagardening.

As for Malaza...he can't be stopped. He is in the process of taking permagardening to the homes of 45 orphan and vulnerable children in Digwale and Kamelpoort, South Africa.

The U.S. Peace Corps sponsored permagarden workshop and U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer Activity Support and Training grant were funded by PEPFAR.

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