How Community Gardens Are Changing Lives in Tanzania

Tanzania 2013

By Jennifer James

October 04, 2013

Also published at Impatient Optimists

Tanzanian mom of three, Daria, stands in her shamba ("garden" in Swahili) in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Up in the lush Uluguru Mountains in Morogoro, Tanzania, a USAID-funded nutritional program, Mwanzo Bora (which means "good start" in Swahili) has been put in place to help increase local mothers’ breastfeeding rates, lower the number of expectant mothers with anemia, and provide parents with the nutritional know-how to properly feed their children a well-balanced diet.

Through a partnership between the Tanzanian government and USAID’s Feed the Future program with implementing partner, Africare, the Mwanzo Bora Nutrition Program (MBNP) works to bolster the strategic goals of Tanzania’s recently implemented National Nutrition Strategy, a framework that has effectively put nutrition on the government’s agenda and has laid out a robust goal of reducing childhood stunting and maternal anemia by twenty percent over a five year time frame.

In Tanzania, a country of 48 million, 53 percent of expectant mothers are anemic which causes 20 percent of all Tanzanian maternal deaths. And only 48 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months has been shown to be one of the most effective interventions to keep children under five alive in developing countries. And as I wrote yesterday, 42 percent of all children are stunted in Tanzania.   

Today I met Daria, a Tanzanian mother of three who shares a small homestead with her three children, mother, and extended family. Originally from Dar es Salaam, Daria has called Morogoro home for the past year. During this time she has become an integral part of the volunteer Mwanzo Bora collective of parents who learn vegetable growing techniques — from growing onions and leeks to lettuce and Chinese cabbage — in order to include them in their everyday diets that mainly consist of grains and a little animal protein.  I visited Daria’s homestead, a one kilometer walk from the local clinic, through a windy and steep path newly muddied by the recent rains.

With a small plot of cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, leeks, onions and eggplant behind her home, Daria has taken the knowledge she learned through her participation in Mwanzo Bora and replicated her own shamba, or garden in Swahili. In fact, this is the entire gist of the program: through gained and shared knowledge Feed the Future believes women like Daria will continue to diversify their diets and teach their neighbors how to do the same — gradually improving the stunting and anemia rates in Tanzania person by person, shamba by shamba.

Three people in Daria’s lives who enjoy the new vegetables are her children, especially since they help tend the garden. “They have become curious about the vegetables,” she said through translation. Used to a diet largely dominated by grains and cereals, the family’s new diet also includes fruit from her banana, mango, lime and avocado trees. Mwanzo Bora staff encourage her to give the fruit to her family instead of selling it all at the market, something Daria typically did before joining Mwanzo Bora. Through subtle changes like this, Daria said she has noticed a difference in her children. And while her family still only eats meat like rabbits, chicken and goat once a week, she is now feeding her children more eggs instead of selling them.

Daria’s youngest child, who is nearly two, was the first of her three children to be exclusively breastfed for six months. She got the information about exclusive breastfeeding from the Towero health clinic that sits on the mountain above her home and garden. Her first child breastfed for four months. Her second was breastfed for five months. When I asked her if she saw a difference in breastfeeding exclusively for six months she said of her older children, “They were sick most of the time. This last one didn’t experience any of that.”

Today there are twenty community garden sites like the one in Morogoro that have made a real difference in the lives of Tanzanian families. According to Alex Nalitolela, an agriculture and food security specialist for the Mwanzo Bora Nutrition Program, they realistically look to expand the program to just around 200 sites by year’s end.

Reporting was made possible through a fellowship with the International Reporting Project.

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