|© UNICEF Niger/2005/Page|
|UNICEF-supported community gardens in Niger provide children with food; excess yields are sold to purchase medicines, school supplies and other staples.|
By Kent Page
AGADEZ, Niger, 14 September 2005 – Niger is struggling to cope with a nutrition crisis. But in the village of Alikinkin, community gardens are an oasis of beauty and a source of food, helping children avoid the worst effects of the crisis.
In Alikinkin’s gardens, donkeys, goats and birds flourish among the grasses, bushes, palm and date trees. Neatly-planted rows of crops are irrigated with fresh water pumped from wells – a stark contrast to the situation in other parts of the country.
UNICEF’s office in Agadez, a town near Alikinkin, is supporting 50 community garden projects by helping construct water wells, providing gardening seeds, fertilizer, insecticide, fencing and tools.
The goal is to ensure that village children have access to nutritious foods. The gardens produce tomatoes, onions, carrots, peas, beans, cabbage, potatoes and wheat.
When the project began in 2002, the women who grow and harvest the vegetables drew water from the wells by hand. To help in irrigation, UNICEF offered a choice of camels or motorized pumps. Today the motorized pumps are the more popular choice, since they are more effective and cost less to maintain than the camels.
“The off-season garden harvests help families through the long hunger season,” said UNICEF Assistant Project Officer Aba Aissata Sidy, who works in the UNICEF Agadez office.
Besides helping nourish children, the gardens help in other ways as well. “Vegetables harvested are prioritized for consumption by children of families in the village,” says Aba Aissata Sidy. “But when there are excess yields, the vegetables are sold in the market and the money is saved in the women’s community bank account.”
The money helps to buy medicines, to pay for school fees and uniforms and also to buy basic food staples like millet or sorghum that cannot be grown around Agadez.
To complement and support the community garden project, UNICEF has trained a ‘Community-Growth Monitoring Group’ to record the weight and height of children, in order to identify and prevent possible cases of undernutrition. UNICEF also counsels women on the best nutrition practices for their children, including exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life.
The monitoring group is spreading the word about the success of the gardening project, and encouraging other women to get involved and, with UNICEF support, create their own nutritional oases in Niger.
28 September 2005: UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on UNICEF's efforts to help Niger's villages plant their own gardens which will sustain them through hard times.