Debre Zeit — Since 2008 in Ethiopia, the Urban Gardens Program has strived to improve the general health and incomes of women, orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS, through urban agriculture.
"My husband died from HIV/AIDS years ago and then I lost my first daughter the same way," says Sishae, an elderly widow who works in a community garden established in 2010 in the town of Debre Zeit, an hour south of Addis Ababa.
"By working in the garden I now have some income to help support my children and my grandchildren," she explains.
Since 2008, the Urban Gardens Program has reached over 34,200 households in Ethiopia through community and school gardens. Municipalities donate a piece of land to be worked by people selected according to HIV/AIDS status and economic vulnerability. The USAID program also provides drip kit technology for irrigation and often digs wells to increase the likelihood of sustainability.
The gardeners either work as a group before dividing the resulting crops, or as individual gardeners. In either case, the gardeners regularly meet at the garden site and share experiences. With their new income, the gardeners form savings groups whereby they can loan money to each other. The more successful community gardens have also formed cooperatives to better serve the local market.
Tsehay Tilahun and her daughter both have HIV/AIDS. "During the morning I work in the garden, and in the afternoon I make injera which I sell at the market," says Tsehay. Ten years ago, her neighbors would never do business with someone living with HIV/AIDS, but the gardens have contributed to reducing the stigma. Also with increased economic independence comes greater self-confidence to take on other projects.
Magda Belay and her three brother and sisters are orphans. In the morning they go to school and in the afternoon they work in the garden. "We work here with other children like us, and make some money to help the family. We've also learned that vegetables are good for our health!" they exclaim.
Today, over 350 urban gardens are spread across Ethiopia. As the cities become denser, access to land and resources becomes more competitive and the urban poor usually prove to be the most vulnerable. But now they have Urban Gardens as one viable - and sustainable - solution.