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You are what you eat

Central African Republic, October 4, 2011

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    Some of the villagers in Serangoto who have learned how to tend their communal garden. Photo: John Cunningham/Mercy Corps Photo: blog-4---people-of-serangoto.jpg

Manioc is the basic staple diet in much of the Central African Republic, and there’s often little else. It’s dull and bland with little nutritional value. But many people here eat nothing at breakfast, nothing at lunch and one meal of manioc late afternoon. That’s it. Occasionally a little manioc leaf or peanut and oil sauce to go with it, but even then the manioc does little except fill you up, and over time can lead to malnutrition and a weakened immune system.

To tackle the problems created by relying on manioc alone, and to help local people access more nutritious food, Mercy Corps has set up communal vegetable gardens across the country. In the village of Serangoto, I met some of 90 families involved in their local garden scheme.

They told me about the training they’d received from Mercy Corps on cultivation techniques, and how they’d learnt to grow things like onion, lettuce, celery, green beans, parsley and courgette — all new to the villagers. They each spend some time during the week tending the communal garden, and each get a share of the vegetables grown.

They’ve also learnt about nutrition, including the needs of specific groups like pregnant mothers and HIV positive members of the family. Everyone involved gets training on how to combine and cook these new vegetables to supplement the staple manioc they normally eat.

It was great to see the enthusiasm for this nutritional know-how and the new vegetables. The knowledge local people have now will improve nutrition and protect food cultivation for this community, permanently. I’ll think of the people of Serangota every time I shop in the vegetable isle at the supermarket from now on.