In the developing world, hunger leads to malnutrition and illness, keeping children from school and adults from work, and there is little opportunity to rise beyond basic subsistence. When you’re chronically hungry, you’re not productive. And when you’re not productive, you’re trapped in poverty.
Food security is a complex issue. In the simplest terms, it’s the availability of, and access to, an adequate amount of nutritious food. Free the Children’s Agriculture and Food Security pillar, made possible by founding partner PotashCorp, focuses on innovative farming techniques and water management projects to help ensure developing communities have access to healthy, self-sustaining food sources. This directly impacts a community’s health, access to education and life outcomes.
Free The Children partners with communities to deliver the means to grow food to eat and to sell, which enables them to buy what they can’t grow. The trickle-down effect is an increase in the health, wellbeing and productivity of all members of the community.
Our program helps subsistence-farming communities attain adequate amounts of nutritious food—not just in the short term, but more importantly in the long term.
Participants work with local Free the Children staff and on-the-ground organizations to learn environmentally sustainable ways of producing
food. This involves, among other things, teaching improved agricultural practices such as drainage and irrigation, increasing water access, improving seed quality and soil fertility, and building farmers’ tool kits. The goal, as with all our pillars, is long term sustainability, and communities that are able to free themselves from the cycle of poverty.
Free The Children’s agriculture and food security projects in partner communities include:
This year, Oleleshwa Farm in Kenya expanded to include 200 acres of land and 12 greenhouses, increasing its capacity to support student lunch programs (to date the farm has provided food for more than 2,000,000 meals) and providing agricultural training to community leaders.
In an area with changing weather patterns and increased vulnerability to shifting global food prices, it’s important for food security that communities are able to adapt. With greater agricultural training and access to food produced at Oleleshwa Farms, food security is addressed at a local level and community members have a consistent source of healthy and diversified food. Support for our lunch program also means better nutrition for students, which translates to improved attendance rates.
In the heat of the greenhouse at Pimbiniet Primary School in Kenya, vines sag under the weight of ripe tomatoes. The air here is warmer and more humid than outside, full of the smell of soil. The metallic snip of pruning shears is the only sound within the polyethylene tarps that make up the walls of the greenhouse. Students carefully walk down rows of trellised tomato vines and remove new offshoots that could overburden the plants or compete for nutrients, water, space and light.
With these two new techniques—pruning offshoots and using trellises—the students of Pimbiniet have performed wonders for their tomato crop. With a trellis to keep the plants in nourishing sunlight and support their weight as they grow, the tomatoes are getting bigger with every harvest.
So far, the students have picked 100 kilograms—more than enough for the school to supplement student lunches. With proceeds from the sale of surplus tomatoes and the 4,230 eggs they’ve collected from the school’s poultry, the students have helped their school earn enough money to hire three new teaching assistants. In a country with one of the highest student to teacher ratios in the world, these extra educators will be able to help raise the quality of education in Pimbiniet.
The students have also farmed up the funds to hire an attendant for their crops. The attendant will be able to make sure the farm and greenhouse stay healthy while students are in class or on holiday. And with their harvest getting bigger every season, students are welcoming the help. It took a lot of work to grow and collect 545 kilograms of sweet potatoes, beans, kale and spinach this season.
And healthy veggies aren’t the only things growing out in the fields. The students, who have been leading these projects since day one, have cultivated new skills and experiences in agriculture, leadership and teamwork. Their enthusiasm is so contagious that one of the teachers has even started a garden at home.
In fact, many of the students’ parents are involved in a community farm that will soon be growing edible crops. With a new greenhouse and a coop capable of housing 200 egg-laying chickens, the farm promises to do for the larger Pimbiniet community what the students’ garden has done for the school. Already the farm volunteers have helped lay down pipes to bring water to their crops—simple fodder crops, such as hardy grasses that provide nutrition to cows and goats.
As these farming initiatives grow, the community of Pimbiniet grows right along with them. Proper nutrition from veggies decreases the rate of illness and gives students the energy to learn. Stable income from the sale of surplus food gives parents the power to plan for their future and save for emergencies. The seeds of change were always there in Pimbiniet—and now they have the opportunity to grow.