Promoting Dietary Diversity through Backyard Gardens

Originally published on November 4, 2015.

Maria Chande wanted her family to eat healthy foods, but was sick of buying the same old wilted, tasteless vegetables at the local market. A middle-aged mother of four, she wanted to see her kids grow strong and healthy. The year-round availability of Malawian staples like nsima (maize meal), Chinese cabbage and tomato just weren’t enough, but everything changed when Maria found dietary diversity through an improved backyard garden.

Food insecurity is a common occurrence in Malawi. Even families with steady access to food struggle with micro-nutrient deficiencies caused by eating the same staples every day. With limited consistent crop diversity, local markets tend to only have the basics. Families like Maria’s survive, but their bodies lack much needed vitamins and minerals.

I eat more fresh vegetables now than before. I also preserve the vegetables and fruits in order to eat them later when the season is over. These are things I did not know before receiving training.

Maria Chande (A Nutrition Farmer Group Leader)

Realizing that the common rural diet has health and nutrition consequences, Land O’Lakes International Development, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food for Progress program, started promoting backyard gardening in Nkhotakota, where Maria lives. Backyard gardens were already a common concept for many households in Nkhotakota. However, due to a lack of diverse seeds and knowledge of how and what to cook, backyard gardens were limited. Land O’Lakes introduced different varieties of locally available seeds, such as okra, pumpkin, peas, papaya and guava, and empowered 300 Nutrition Farmer Group Leaders (NFGLs) to grow and cook with them. After the first season, these NFGL’s organized and trained additional farming households in nutrition clubs. With the support of the NFGLs, these clubs established their own backyard gardens.

NFGLs conduct cooking demonstrations during a field day using in-season vegetables and fruits.
Land O’Lakes also linked these nutrition clubs and NFGLs to YankhoPlotsTM demonstration sites where farmers gather to learn best farming techniques and technologies for growing commodity crops. During field days, Land O’Lakes’ NFGLs conducted cooking demonstrations with these “new” ingredients, introducing recipes to bystanders. Favorites included dishes with papaya, baobab fruit, guava and bean. The backyard gardens are viewed as a way-out in an environment where most rural communities face economic constraints and lack information on how to improve dietary diversity.

Maria, who has become an NFGL, finds pride in using her garden, where she grows pumpkin and okra, as a teaching tool to other members of the community. Farmers and their families in the program areas of Salima and Nkhotakota are now growing and consuming a wider array of foods than before. This in turn is helping boost availability of more varieties of fresh vegetables and fruits in the market. The backyard gardens are just one of many sustainable nutrition approaches being implemented by Land O’Lakes in effort to enhance dietary diversity in Malawi.

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