Until last year, 81-year-old Lucia Mbanje and her family of six, all residents of impoverished Sakubva township in Mutare, could not afford a balanced diet due to the prohibitive cost of vegetables in Zimbabwe as a result of the economic crisis.
In November 2009, Mercy Corps started training the family in the technique of low-input gardening, which requires minimal acreage. Mercy Corps which is the lead agency in the Joint Initiative for Urban Zimbabwe program, which has so far trained 450 beneficiaries like Lucia in crop management and crop rotation practices to minimize the use of scarce water, allowing them to grow a diverse array of vegetables and herbs in backyards.
In addition, Mercy Corps trained the beneficiaries to use animal manure and compost rather than fertilizer, saving money and helping the environment. The raised vegetable beds used in low-input gardens retain water better than beds closer to the ground and prevent spoilage during floods.
The Mbanjes planted a low-input garden in February 2010 and, by August, were enjoying not only such produce as strawberries, but also flowers and herbs such as elderflower and nasturtium — which are used here for cooking and — as well as traditional vegetables such as mowa (amaranthus) and tsunga.
Emma Kachomba — another program beneficiary in Sakubva — not only feeds vegetables from her garden to the seven children and four adults in her household, but also sells excess produce such as spinach, sugarcane and covo (a kind of leafy green), a local favourite, to generate income.
Vegetables and herbs from low-input gardens supplement the cash transfer program, another Mercy Corps program component which allows vulnerable households like Lucia's to buy basic commodities and enjoy a more balanced and more nutritious diet.