In existence since 2015, Mahama Refugee camp in Rwanda’s Eastern province is home to over 50,000 Burundian refugees.
With a high population, the camp cannot afford surplus land for its inhabitants to cultivate food to supplement aid supplied by humanitarian organisations. As a result of this factor combined with limited knowledge on good practices, cases of malnutrition and related vulnerabilities are relatively high mostly among children, pregnant women and the elderly.
Through its emergency operations, the Rwanda Red Cross is equipping refugee families with skills to build less space-consuming vegetable gardens known locally as akarima k’igikoni (kitchen garden).
More than 900 kitchen gardens have been established since 2016.
Thanks to the kitchen gardens, year round production of vegetables has increased offering supplementary food to the grains and beans supplied in relief aid.
One refugee mother expressed her excitement saying, “Before learning how to build a modernized kitchen garden, getting vegetables was almost impossible. The hard food available was beginning to take a toll on the health of our children. But today, we not only harvest enough for our consumption but even a surplus for the market.”
With a refugee camp the size of Mahama established in a rural community, the pressure on local food production has been enormous. Victims of malnutrition also include very poor families in villages surrounding the camp in Munini Cell.
As a result, the Red Cross decided to extend skills in building and maintaining a kitchen garden to residents of Munini. More than 500 gardens have been established.
Besides insufficient food production, poor diet and hygiene practices were also found to be among the lead factors causing malnutrition.
Thus alongside the kitchen garden building skills, mobilization efforts in the camp and surrounding communities have been scaled up using mass media such as mobile cinema and traditional techniques of house-to-house sensitization.
From the observations of Rwanda Red Cross community mobilization coordinator for interventions in Mahama Camp and neighboring communities Anitha Nyinawumuntu, the results from a combination of skills and knowledge have been impressive.
To further increase ownership of the gardens and support the targeted households earn some much needed cash, a cash-for-work approach is used in the establishment of the kitchen gardens. A kitchen garden building cost is agreed upon by Red Cross team, community leaders and the target households, and the beneficiaries are mobilised to build the gardens on their own and earn some cash.
Other than earning some cash, the approach has built strong ownership ethos resulting into sustainability of the gardens.