Text: Impact Foundation/Kavli Trust
Photo: Impact Foundation Bangladesh
The rice is thrown into the air by Nisaron and caught in the sieve with practised movements as she separates the grain from the chaff.
Along with 20 or so other women, she attends the Mothers Club to learn about cooking, nutrition, health and growing vegetables. This is also where members of the gardening project are chosen.
Organised by the Impact Foundation Norway (IFN), this programme focuses primarily on poor young mothers with little education. The ambitious goal is to establish some 200 vegetable plots within two years.
“These Mothers Clubs are an effective way of reaching out to the rural population in Bangladesh,” explains programme manager Kristin H Oishi at the IFN. “They help with quality assurance of the project.”
The reality underlying the programme is that no less than two billion people worldwide lack essential micronutrients, boosting their vulnerability to infection and other illnesses.
Nutrition-related problems inhibit human growth and development, and can lead to physical and mental disabilities. More than a third of child mortality relates to malnourishment.
The project began in March 2013, when the Kavli Trust joined forces with the IFN. The latter has worked with the Impact Foundation Bangladesh (IFB) for 15 years, in part on similar gardening schemes.
Poverty and malnutrition are often closely related, reflecting economic conditions, the availability of produce and lack of knowledge.
“Our garden plots cultivate at least five different types of vegetables, which ensure access to nutritious food throughout the year,” explains Oishi.
“Green-leaved plants are particularly important, being rich in vitamins A, C and K, foliates, iron and calcium, and important anti-oxidants.”
Monjura is another of the women in the IFN project, who began growing organic vegetables with her family three months ago on previously waste land. A former engineering student, the 22-year-old now lives with her parents and a nephew.
“We got seeds, nets, equipment and training from the IFB,” she reports. “We can now eat fresh organic vegetables, and no longer need to spend our money on produce from the market.”
Her family is keen to cultivate an even wider range of vegetables with time, so that this output can become a permanent part of its income.
Each Mothers Club has 20-25 members, who get monthly teaching on such subjects as health, hygiene, mother/child and birth problems, and women’s rights. They are followed up over three years.
The women also learn about nutritional physiology, but without textbooks because they are largely illiterate. Instead, diagrams and direct explanations of various food plants are used.
Members who establish vegetable plots receive all the necessary equipment and training, and are followed up over two years.
Guidance and courses are provided initially on establishing the garden, preparing the soil, planting, watering, maintenance and harvesting.
Mita Khatun recently began growing vegetables on land which was lying unused outside her small home, after learning about the project from the IFB.
“We thought this was very interesting,” she explains. “The IFB provided training, seeds and other materials, and the inspiration to start a kitchen garden on our waste land.”
Khatun completed eight years of schooling and has a 12-year-old child. Her husband sells some of the vegetables they cultivate in the market.
“We now get all the vegetables we need from our garden,” she says. “We also give some to our neighbour, and often sell a few in the local market.”
The women receive regular follow-up – once a month during the first year, and then every quarter in year two.
Additional training is provided in the Meherpur district on the correct use of water containing arsenic, a big problem in this part of the country.
The project is now halfway through its first year, and a total of 200 garden plots have been established or are in the process of being created.
Oishi is very satisfied with the progress made. “These kitchen gardens also allow the women to participate in local value creation,” she notes.
“Selling surplus produce provides additional income, which in turn makes the women into a valuable resource for their families.
“Providing group training for the women also creates social networks. In the longer term, we hope this can change attitudes towards females in society.”
Dr Shafiul Kabir, the local programme head at the IFB, is also very pleased with developments. “Many women in this poor area of Bangladesh lead hard lives,” he points out.
“We’re very proud to be implementing this positive project with support from the Kavli Trust and the Impact Foundation Norway.”
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