At long last I am beginning my main project here at site. They don’t lie when they say it can take a year plus to really get going on a big project. It’s exciting now that things are moving. We are still in the planning phases, but the grant is almost ready for review, and the community and village leaders are all on board – they think it’s a good project, and they have committed to the community contribution requirements. I have also secured a contractor to dig the new wells that are a part of the project, and they visited the village to help decide on well locations.
I suppose I should take a step back and describe the project in full. The main focus and goal of the project is to increase food security, and better nutrition in the village. There are currently about 10 home gardens in my entire village – vegetable gardens close to the household. That might seem pathetic, but it makes sense. The water sources for the majority of community members, the rivers, are down steep paths into the valleys. We are lucky that we have a secure water source in the form of those rivers (unlike the central region of TZ), but it is a lot of work to haul water bucket by bucket from river to home. There are some vegetable gardens in the valleys, mixed in with the corn and bean crops, but they do not provide a variety of vegetables (most likely just one type of leafy green), and it can really be a chore to go and harvest a bit for each meal.
So one aspect of the project will be the construction of 80 new home gardens in the form of permagardens. Groups of four or five households will work together to build and maintain a new permagarden (and to share its bounty). My counterparts and I will train 12 community members to provide trainings for these garden groups. This means that everyone in the community will receive training on permagarden construction and maintenance, along with trainings on making natural fertilizers, fertigation techniques, and making natural pesticides. Also, if all goes as planned, in the end everyone will have access to a garden close to their household.
Permagardens are ideal because they encourage the intercropping of a variety of vegetables, the use of organic materials for soil fertility, natural water retention due to the garden structure, and long-term use thanks to these elements. You may be thinking, though, sure it’s great that these new gardens will be made, and the community members will get a good deal of training, but the water is still far away, so how will they maintain their new permagardens…?
This was my first garden, a permagarden – I used manure and my homemade compost to mix in the soil before planting, I intercropped a variety of vegetables, and I constructed the garden with the trenches to help retain the water when it rained within the garden.
That brings us to the other parts of the project: new wells, a gutter and a rain collection barrel for every household, and drip kit irrigation technology for the gardens. I mentioned a bit about wells at the beginning of this entry. The plan is to make 7 or 8 new wells spread through the village. We have already started to work with an outside contractor from my banking town, and they have worked with other PCVs in the past. We hope to begin well construction in September, drill 3 wells per month, and hopefully finish by the end of November. The contractor will train members of the community so that they can assist in the well construction (that way they’ll be more invested in maintaining the wells once completed).
For the rainwater harvesting element of the project, the grant will cover the cost of a 6.5 foot gutter for every household (there are just over 400 households in the community). It will then be the responsibility of each household to provide themselves with one pipa – a 200L barrel. We are making the pipa a requirement to get the gutter. I thought this would be too high of an expectation for the community – each pipa costs 50,000 shillings (about 25usd), which is a lot of money here in the village! But after having a community meeting about the project, all community members present said they would be willing and able. With both a gutter and a pipa, I am guessing the entire community will not have to carry water for the whole rainy season, which is about 5 months of the year. (There’s a lot of rain where I live…)
Finally, the drip kits. I discovered drip kits when I attended the Peace Corps water training last year, and ended up purchasing one for my own garden. They are very simple drip irrigation systems. You have a bag that connects to a hose that connects to other hoses that can stretch throughout your garden. Then you poke small holes in the hoses and insert these very narrow plastic tubes. The water of course goes from the bag into the hoses, then out the tubes drip by drip. Usually the people in my village water their gardens with a cup from a bucket. This means that they just pour a bunch of water out at once, which isn’t the best method for maintaining the soil structure or for lessening water demand for irrigation. Drip kits can drastically decrease the amount of water needed to water a garden. You only water the necessary area directly surrounding the plants, and the drip by drip method slowly soaks the soils, preventing the water from running off and away from the plant.
In the end, we hope this project, and all its different parts, will allow the entire community to sustain a home garden close to their households. By increasing access to water in both the rainy and dry seasons we hope to motivate the community members to maintain their new permagardens, giving them easy access to a variety of vegetables throughout the year, and bettering their nutrition. Sounds pretty ideal, doesn’t it?
Who knows how successful this project will be in the end. There are so many factors when doing a project in the village that can provide many challenges, and can make the success of a project very difficult. I am pretty optimistic, however (at this point). The entire community seems very enthusiastic and willing to contribute to make this project happen. They are interested in learning new agricultural methods, and of course want to use the newest technologies – the drip kits, the gutters, and the wells. I think we’ll find some success.