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Mom was right! Vegetables are good for you!

Each weekday morning, I read through a summary of the days top humanitarian news stories via Reuters AlerNet. The top stories are typically depressing and a daily reminder of how sick our humanity is and our planet is. People are sick, hungry, killing each other and in complete desperation all over the globe.

This morning I was pleased to read a story of hope. Women are farming vegetables and it's changing the world!

Farming vegetables is changing family dynamics, economics, health and even the climate. I was so encouraged by this story I wanted to share it with you. What are your thoughts on this? How can we help encourage this to continue to grow here at home and in the developing world? 

Here is the article:

MONTPELLIER, France (AlertNet) - How can Africa ease hunger, improve women's lives and adapt to climate change all in one stroke? By growing vegetables, researchers believe.

Efforts to curb persistent hunger in Africa usually focus on boosting yields of grain and other staple crops. But in the Sahel region, where farmers have long battled droughts, more than 2,500 women are now growing greens, tomatoes, onions, aubergine (eggplant) and other nutritious crops in small plots near their homes, using seeds specially bred for local conditions and drip-irrigation systems which save scarce water.

In a region where the average daily wage is about a dollar a day, many are now earning over $4 a day in sales from their gardens, as well as supplying their families with food rich in nutrients that are often missing from local diets. Crop failures, which used to happen every two and a half years on average, are no longer a problem.

HOW TO 'GROW OUT OF POVERTY'

"This is how you grow yourself out of poverty," said Dyno Keatinge, who heads the Taiwan-based AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center, which supports the "African market garden" project with seeds and expertise.

The centre this week, with its partner, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), received a major international award for its work in the Sahel.

The prize was presented by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) during a conference in Montpellier on revamping agricultural research to support development.

CGIAR, a network of the world's leading agricultural scientists, categorises vegetables as a "non-staple" crop, and vegetable production has received relatively little attention in efforts to slash world hunger.

But in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger and Benin, vegetable gardens - most between 100 and 500 square metres in size - are proving an answer to a wide range of problems, experts say.

"AVRDC is close to God in my mind," said Emmy Simmons, a board member of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa, a research and advocacy group.

The vegetable project, she said, has made a tremendous difference to some of Africa's poorest people and can work in urban areas as well as rural ones - an important consideration as more Africans migrate to cities.

ALLOWS WOMEN TO WORK NEAR HOME

Besides improving diets and raising incomes, the project's small gardens allow women who once had to travel to distant fields to work nearer their homes, where they can keep a close eye on children and have more time for cooking and other chores.

Improved nutrition - many of the vegetables have been bred to be particularly high in vitamins - is easing health problems in many areas, freeing women from the additional burden of caring for sick family members.

Higher incomes have also given women more status within their families and enabled them to keep children in school, researchers say.

Just as important, the gardens are making villagers more resilient to climate change, which scientists say leads to more unpredictable weather. Vegetables have short growing seasons and can be harvested throughout the year, which reduces the chances of a storm or other weather disaster wiping out a whole season's income.

Small gardens are also easier to irrigate than large farm fields, and use less water than grain to produce a higher income per acre.

MAKING GOOD USE OF SCARCE WATER

"One millimetre of rain on a hectare plot is 10 cubic metres of water, which is very, very little to grow any field crop," said Abdou Tenkouano, director of AVDRC's African arm. "But 10 cubic metres is a lot of buckets of water for a small plot."

To irrigate their gardens, women are turning to low-tech techniques, including digging small half-moon-shaped reservoirs near the plots to collect rainwater. Most are also investing in drip irrigation systems - where small amounts of water seep from tubing into the soil - to lose less water through evaporation.

Another key to the programme's success is the use of seeds specially bred to produce vegetable varieties that are fast-growing, resistant to drought, pests and other problems, highly productive and nutritious.

For instance, tomatoes high in beta carotene, which helps the body produce Vitamin A, are cutting health problems related to vitamin deficiency, such as night blindness. And many gardens are producing up to 300 kg of vegetables per growing season, which "has to be one of the highest yields you can think of," Tenkouano said.

Researchers admit that encouraging villagers to eat some of the new vegetables, rather than local staples like millet, sorghum and peanuts, has taken some work. Imported vegetables such as cabbage, which are high in fibre but relatively low in nutrition, remain local favourites, and some traditional vegetables like okra and greens can be seen as low-status choices.

But farmers are finding ways to market their produce. Some are selling to supermarkets, which put the greens into plastic bags that make the contents more appealing to buyers.

BUILDING A SEED SUPPLY NETWORK

The vegetable project is also slowly building a supply network for good-quality vegetable seed in West Africa, something that has long been missing in the region.

Women are being trained to produce seeds from their gardens for commercial sale. That both boosts incomes and widens the reach of the new vegetable varieties.

AVDRC researchers say they now have a seed bank of 400 vegetable species bred to flourish in often harsh conditions, including varieties adapted from the Atacama and Kalahari deserts in Chile and Botswana respectively.

"There isn't a tropical environment I can't find you a vegetable for," Keatinge said. "We're ready for climate change."

Thoughts? Ideas? Concerns?

Comments

The statement is good. It is really inspiring. - Aldo Todini

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I drink coffee, read books, and travel. I’ve been able to drink coffee and discuss books with friends all over the world, simply because someone built a bridge and I made it east of the Mississippi and beyond. For this reason, I love bridges.


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