By Justin Salani
I wake up to prepare to go to a local school, which is about 10km away. The school is located in the vicinity of the business centre. On my way, three women who happen to be our neighbours join me on Mondays and Wednesdays, around 5:00 am. I am carrying my satchel with books and they have baskets each on their heads. The baskets contain tomatoes and a variety of leaf vegetables which the women sell to local business people and teachers at the secondary and primary schools. From their nutritional gardens, the women eke a living by selling vegetables throughout the year.
The United Nations declared 2021 International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, to promote healthy diets and lifestyles through the consumption of fruits and vegetables, and to raise awareness on the important role of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition. This is in line with goal number 3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, that is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.
Conscious or not, rural communities play an important role in promoting healthy diets and lifestyles through nutritional gardens. In most rural communities, particularly in the semi-arid lowveld, nutritional gardens are a common phenomenon. In the post rainy season after harvesting, villagers often begin to plant an assortment of vegetable varieties usually in river banks for a reliable source of water.
Tomatoes, onions, beans and a variety of leaf vegetables are grown and most important is their use of organic fertilizers, particularly cow dung which does not cause much damage to aquatic ecosystems since the system is practiced in flood plains. The produce is mainly for family consumption, with excess being sold at local business centres. In some areas cooperative nutritional gardens often sponsored by the donor community produce a variety of leaf and fruit vegetables for sell, providing income and improving standards of living for rural people.
One of the major challenges affecting these nutritional gardens is unavailability of reliable water supplies. Some get water from shallow wells which dry out as the dry season progresses. Well, the Pfumvudza/Intwasa concept of conservation farming launched by the government of Zimbabwe for the 2020/21 farming season can be modelled to sustain nutritional gardens.
Generally, a Pfumvudza/Intwasa plot can be kept alive with buckets of water which is the most common method used to sustain plant lives in nutritional gardens. The use of organic fertilizers allows the soil to hold water longer, thus conserving water. Mulch can also be put in place to help in conserving moisture and reduce the demand for water by the plants. A variety of vegetables can also be grown modelling the concept of Pfumvudza, which uses a small piece of land to grow a variety of crops.
The establishment solar powered boreholes in rural areas can drive the production of fruits and vegetables in line with the United Nations’ 2021 declaration. Small scale dams even along evanescent rivers can be constructed to provide water for nutritional gardens and other uses. Many folks should be encouraged to set up nutritional gardens for the production of fruits and vegetables.