In Africa's Sahel region, efforts to relieve food shortages there have usually concentrated on growing extra grain and other staple crops. But now more than 2,500 are growing nutritious vegetables crops including tomatoes, onions and aubergines in small plots near their homes, using seeds specially bred for local conditions and drip-irrigation systems which save scarce water.
In the Sahel, which covers parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, the average daily wage is $1 a day. But through a project run by The World Vegetable Centre, (AVRDC) which helps women with seeds and expertise, many are now earning more than $4 a day in sales from their gardens. At the same time they are giving their families food that is rich in nutrients that are often missing from local diets. "This is how you grow yourself out of poverty," said Dyno Keatinge, who heads the Taiwan-based AVRDC, which supports the "African market garden".
In Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger and Benin, vegetable gardens are helping solve to a wide range of problems, experts say. It has made a huge difference to some of Africa's poorest people and can work in urban areas as well as rural ones, Emmy Simmons, of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa told Reuters news service. And crucially, it allows women to work near home. So alongside improving diets and raising incomes, the project's small gardens allow women who once had to travel to far away fields to work near home, where they can keep a close eye on children and have more time for cooking and other chores.
Another key success is the project’s use of seeds specially bred to grow types of vegetables that are fast-growing, resist drought, pests and other problems, as well as being highly nutritious. For instance, tomatoes rich in beta carotene, which helps the body produce Vitamin A, are cutting health problems related to vitamin deficiency, such as night blindness.
Researchers working on the project say the AVDRC now has a seed bank of 400 vegetable species bred to flourish in harsh conditions, including varieties adapted from deserts in Chile and Botswana. "There isn't a tropical environment I can't find you a vegetable for," Mr Keatinge said. "We're ready for climate change."
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children