Just yards away from Rwinkwavu Hospital on a softly sloping hill, a series of well-irrigated and fertilized gardens burst with healthy pineapple plants, rows of cabbages, and avocado trees. These gardens represent the hard work and vision of Sebu Gaston, the director of the Agriculture Assistance Program supported by Partners In Health and its Rwandan sister organization, Inshuti Mu Buzima (IMB).
Malnutrition in Rwanda
- 43% of child deaths are attributed to malnutrition
Agricultural Assistance Program Making a Difference
- Of 66 families surveyed, average food security increased from 39% to 62%
Goals for 2012
- Expand Kirehe and Burera agricultural programs
- Expand to 3 health centers
- Expand animal distribution program
Gaston and his team of 22 Agriculture Assistance Workers (AAWs) form the modest but growing agriculture program, designed to combat malnutrition among patients at PIH-supported hospitals in Rwinkwavu, Kirehe, and Butaro. Food insecurity is a severe problem in Rwanda. “Chronic undernutrition and stunting remains stubbornly high at 45 percent nationwide,” said Dr. Peter Drobac, IMB Program Director. The stark reality is children who are chronically hungry become far more vulnerable to diarrheal illness, bacterial infections, physical stunting, intellectual impairment, and death. In Rwanda, 43 percent of child deaths are attributed to malnutrition.
Gaston and his AAWs work most frequently with the mothers of children being treated for malnutrition in Rwinkwavu Hospital’s pediatric ward. Mothers receive training in the gardens twice a week on best practices for creating compost, planting vegetables, raising livestock, and cooking well-balanced meals for their families. During the initial three months of training, the mothers receive food packages for their children. Training then continues for at least nine months, with home visits from AAWs to advise and check on their progress.
PIH/IMB’s agriculture program features a homestead on a small plot of land, representing the average space Rwandan families have for gardening. Gaston points out that soil, especially in southern Rwanda, is shallow. This prevents roots from spreading. To tackle this problem, his program teaches women to build tiered gardens, and to fill tires or sacks with a combination of soil and compost. The small compact gardens can bear some very vitamin-rich vegetables including cabbages, onions, carrots eggplants, and beets.
Women who complete the agricultural program training can reap lasting rewards. After completing one year of training, they are given seeds, small grafted plants, and farming tools. After two years, some become eligible to receive livestock -- either a pig or goat -- and a rabbit that produces manure to help with composting.
Already, the Agricultural Assistance Program is bearing fruit. A survey based on 66 families found that after 12 months of training and education, their food security increased from 39% to 62%. And within the last two years, the malnutrition rate in the community of Kirehe has dropped nearly eight-fold. “This is where we believe our agriculture program can make a real and lasting difference,” said Dr. Drobac.