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Report on Rwanda
by Jake Blehm

In April 2013, Assistant Executive Director Jake Blehm flew to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, for the purpose of meeting with staff from Gardens For Health, International (GFH). Jake hopes to collaborate with GFH, an organization founded in 2007 by two young college women, Emma Clippinger and Emily Morell, who were interested in developing agricultural programs that address the needs of those most nutritionally vulnerable. Currently the main focus of the non-profit is working with rural health centers to reduce childhood malnutrition rates. Jake describes his visit to Rwanda as follows:

As I leave the Kigali airport for the hotel, it is quite apparent that Rwanda is on the way up. There are new roads and building construction, the city is green and clean and very orderly. After checking in, I take a taxi to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, which is now 10 years old. The Center's message and impact are profoundly moving. I return to the hotel to meet with Brett Hawley, Development and Communications Fellow at Gardens For Health, to discuss our schedule for the next two days. As evening sets in, I walk up the hill and across the street to the Hotel des Mille Collines (Hotel of a 1000 Hills), the original "Hotel Rwanda" featured in the movie of the same name. It is strange to stand on the balcony and look out at a peaceful and prosperous Kigali, nearly 20 years after the horrendous events of 1994.Brett Hawley and "mini-farmer" Cedric

The following morning, I'm picked up by Conner Wear, the Agricultural Fellow at Gardens For Health (GFH). It is only about 20 minutes out to the project's farm, where I get a brief tour and meet with Julie Carney, Country Director, to discuss current programs, the number of families now being served by GFH and what their plans for expansion are in the coming year. We plan a day-trip to one of the nutrition classes, and visits to some farmers in the area who have been introduced to the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method.

We load up the truck and head for a nutrition class taking place at a village about 45 minutes away. At each stop we pick up more women and children who are on their way to attend the training. We arrive at a school and health clinic where the women participate in a nutrition class given by the local GFH staff. While the women are in class, Conner and Samuel Uwizeyimana take me on a series of farm visits to see what is happening in current farming practices and the early adoption of GB techniques by some farmers. It is encouraging to see that farmers—even after just one training—are beginning to experiment with the techniques of double-digging, composting and close spacing.

Brett and "mini-farmer" Cedric who lives at the GFH compound.

This country needs the GB method desperately, as the majority of the rural poor are still disenfranchised, especially women and children. Rwanda is densely populated, and the rural population is mostly without sufficient land holdings. Although the soil appears fertile and many farms are adequate in size, a number of farms we see are quite small, with plots of only 2,000 sq ft for both house and garden combined.

In addition to land, the rural population lacks farming and nutrition knowledge and resources to purchase seeds and tools. GFH is supplying a "starter" package to participating families in order for them to begin to improve their home food production.

The work being done in Rwanda by Gardens For Health provides an excellent opportunity for Ecology Action to partner with an established organization already in place, with existing assets and infrastructure. EA's goal is for two Rwandans to be trained each year for two years, to take on the role of Master Trainers in the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method, and to establish a 40-bed-unit demonstration garden at the GFH 5-acre farm. These Master Trainers will run the GB experimental mini-farm and teach local Rwandans the GB method. This training of Rwandans has already been started at the Grow Biointensive Agricultural Centre of Kenya (G-BIACK). The first two Rwandans started there October 8th and will complete their training on December 6th.

We are grateful to Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) for funding this project, the third project in Africa they have funded with EA. BGR is a small non-profit that funds development efforts throughout the world.


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