Approximately three out of every four Africans are 25 years of age or younger. Many of these individuals are also food insecure, with roughly a quarter of the estimated 842 million chronically hungry people in the world living in Africa. The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity has re-launched a project aiming to engage these youth in sustainable food and agriculture systems.
Originally started as one of their main projects in 2012, the project created 1,000 gardens over two years in schools, communities, and urban outskirts in 30 African countries. In 2014, this initiative became the 10,000 Gardens in Africa campaign, with the objective of creating 10,000 gardens across the continent, and the mobilization of a network of young African leaders dedicated to preserving biodiversity, traditional knowledge and food culture, and small-scale agriculture. Here are seven reasons why you should know about the 10,000 Gardens in Africa project.
1. The community is key. The gardens are created by individual communities, with the goal of bringing together different generations and social groups. Locally based experts provide skills while older generations share knowledge with younger people. In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso there are 50 women currently involved in a food garden. Each woman cultivates her plot, with produce eaten at home, sold in a shop and at nearby markets, or used in a small restaurant set up next to the garden.
2. Environmental sustainability combines with natural solutions. Instead of using artificial chemicals to defend against plant diseases, harmful insects, or weeds, farmers use agroecological solutions, including the pest resistant qualities of herbs, flowers, or ash.
3. Water and soil conservation is vital. Innovative irrigation techniques, such as terracotta jars and dripping plastic bottles are widely used. By harnessing local observations and creativity, water access can be improved. Recycling the soil is a top priority of garden coordinators as well, using compost and the direct incorporation of crop residue into the soil.
4. There is always room for gardens. These gardens aim to utilize space that may not otherwise be used. Some gardens can be found next to the side of a footpath, or even on a rooftop.
5. Youths are gaining green thumbs- and leadership skills. With gardens acting as open-air classrooms, teachers can use educational activities like fruit jigsaw puzzles and garden recipe books. Children are encouraged to think independently about the relationship between plants. “We would like to plant some trees too, to make our garden more lively and give the plants shade and oxygen,” explains Abdoulay, age 8, who lives in Burkina Faso. But the learning doesn’t stop there. The Slow Food Foundation also offers scholarships for young Africans to study at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, where these leaders can gain the knowledge they will then share with their community.
6. Monotony has no place in these gardens. Training sessions are held with local technicians and communities to ensure intercropping is developed with concern for particular country needs and climatic conditions. This collaboration will provide successive crop cycles for years to come. To that end, traditional or past seeds are prioritized. These are open-pollinated varieties that have at least five decades of history in a particular area, ensuring they are well-suited to the local climate. Seedbeds allow a multitude of seeds to grow while providing a better yield.
7. But there is always room for collaboration. Networking is cultivated amongst the 2,240 garden groups in Africa, with communication and partnerships between school and communities taking place organically. Since 2011, this project has involved over 50,000 people in 25 different African countries, with tens of thousands of members and activists globally. "Our strength lies in our network, we are small but we are many and we will continue to grow," reported Eunice Njoroge of Kenya.
Leading the charge of this project is Edie Mukiibi, Vice President of Slow Food International. Appointed in 2014, Mukiibi has already 75 youth gardens in Africa by founding the Developing Innovations in School and Community Cultivation (DISCC) project. But the work in preserving African biodiversity is far from over, stating that, “this is our time in Africa to promote our own food and gastronomy, to strengthen our traditional food systems and communities, and to defend our African biodiversity.” It isn’t too late for individuals, companies, and organizations to get involved either. Learn more and sponsor a garden today.