Turning the table with a kitchen garden

How women are empowered, and gender roles changed as a result of a joint UNICEF, WFP and FAO programme

Gabriel Reec
A woman sitting in her garden
28 May 2021

“In my house, my husband will ask me for financial assistant politely, something that never existed before I ventured into kitchen gardening. Now, he sees me as an important member of the household”, Martha Ajak beams.

She is the lead mother for the mother to mother support group in War-Ayen Nutrition Centre, run by Plan International with support from UNICEF. In the Dinka culture, men are traditionally the head of the household and owns everything including his wife. If she buys a cow using her own money, it automatically belongs to the husband because he paid to marry her. Whatever wealth the lady gets, is believed to profit the man. Also, women working in an office have to hand over the salary to the husband and then it is up to him how much she gets back-if any. But, as Martha asserts: “piny aci rot geer, acee piny war yene kede tik ya kede moc”, which means the world has changed, we have passed the time when women belong to men. 

Vegetables in a kitchen garden
Lovely vegetables are growing in Martha's garden

As part of the UNICEF and WFP supported nutrition programme, mother support groups are formed to improve information sharing about health and appropriate nutrition for children and their mothers. To diversify household foods, the families are provided with seeds and agricultural training to make their own kitchen garden. Did you know that this was practiced early on by monks in monasteries across Europe, China and Africa to provide them with vegetables and fruits as they were not accessing outside markets? Also, one of the largest power houses in the world, The White House, has one as former First Lady, Michell Obama, made a kitchen garden and wrote a book about it.

The power of kitchen gardens is well known to UNICEF, as it provides much needed income for the family and the vitamins and minerals from its produce is essential in the fight against malnutrition. It has also proved to be an effective way to redistribute power within a family.

For Martha it means that she is earning her own money. Since the programme is exclusive for women, it has given her more power in the household, as the women are the keepers of the money which has been a positive change in the family dynamic. With the money she has made from the garden, she purchased three goats last year. However, most of the income is pent on household expenses. Martha says this has lifted a huge burden from her husband’s shoulder, he is not the solemn provider anymore. “We have more peaceful nights as the fighting is less because of reduced stress.” UNICEF has noted that there is less gender- based violence in families where the financial stress is reduced.

People surrounding a fruit tree
Plan International/Makoi
UNICEF, FAO and WFP are inspecting some of the kitchen gardens in the project and visiting happy farmers.

In Lakes State, the kitchen garden project has become quite popular, and those who can’t get a spot, learn through mothers who have graduated from nutrition centres, buy their own seeds from markets, plow and sow, and produce vegetables. Now, green fields are seen all over the state and especially close to shore and boreholes for ease of watering the plants. The idea of selling produce has also reached women in remote cattle camps where cow milk is a substantial part of their diet. The women have started selling milk and for the money they earn they are now buying vegetables which provides essential supplements to their diet.

The kitchen garden programme is a win-win programme for everyone, but in particular the children growing up with a better diversified diet which is essential for their development and more peaceful homes.

UNICEF nutrition programmes are generously supported by The EU, ECHO,  The people’s Republic of China, UK Aid and USAID