Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will host a four day workshop “Home-Grown” Keyhole Gardens for Disaster Risk Reduction Learning Initiative in Lesotho from October 25-28, which aims to spread the knowledge of this simple program that can have significant impact on food insecurity and malnutrition.

This is the first step of a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project that targets 18 countries, including four currently affected by the Horn of Africa drought that is impacting more than 13 million people: Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. In total, 16 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa will participate in the workshop along with representatives from Haiti and Afghanistan.

CRS and its consortium partners, CARE, World Vision and Caritas, began implementing keyhole gardens throughout Lesotho in 2006 and CRS has worked with partners to build an estimated 20,807 gardens across the country for 104,035 people.  The small gardens, usually grown on raised beds within homesteads, can successfully provide a family of five with nutritional security for the entire year. 

“We are very excited to be able to share the tremendous success of keyhole gardening in Lesotho with other countries,” says Chandreyee Banerjee, CRS Lesotho country representative.  “We’ve seen communities where we are not working spontaneously adopt the methodology, as well as the farmers we serve build an additional 4-5 gardens on their own. This is a testament to their usefulness. We feel that these gardens can have a very tangible impact on other food insecure countries around the world.”

In Lesotho, where stunting and chronic malnutrition of children reaches up to 51 percent in mountainous regions, keyhole gardens have been instrumental in bolstering the nutritional status of youngsters, especially orphans and vulnerable children, by improving dietary diversity and consumption.

The architecture of keyhole gardens helps to retain heat and keep the soil warm and can guarantee harvests even during the four months of the year when Lesotho is plagued with snow and biting frost. Constructed to maximize moisture retention, keyhole gardens are also adaptable to both the semi-arid and arid environments that make up more than 25 percent of the world'’s land mass. 

Keyhole gardens require little space making them uniquely suitable for areas where little land is available for agriculture, -- urban areas, schools, refugee camps, anywhere where farmland is diminishing. The design of keyhole gardens and their location within homesteads makes them an appropriate source of food for the elderly, the chronically ill, and households caring for orphans and vulnerable children.

The CRS-led, four-day workshop targets representatives of research institutions, universities, local and peer non-governmental organizations, and other relevant entities who can devote staff time and resources to the proper implementation and dissemination of this new technology in their home countries.

The workshop will introduce selected participants to the benefits of keyhole gardening along with ideas for adaptation to each country’s particular environment. The second phase of the learning initiative will include a six-month period of adaptation and testing in the participants’ respective countries. The final phase will culminate in a workshop where each country will present its findings along with any recommendations for best practices. CRS will pull together the group’s findings into a practitioner handbook and instructional video to be shared with other institutions.

“The investment of USAID in this learning initiative is unprecedented,” says Banerjee. “At a time when the U.S. is faced with the difficult decision on whether or not to cut foreign assistance, the generous investment of the American people in this project can have a very real impact on millions of people across the globe. It is proof that even small investments can yield life-changing results for the world’s poor.”

 Keyhole gardens begin to produce harvestable crops within three months of completion. A 2008 evaluation of their impact revealed that some households increased their income by $50 a month during peak season by selling or bartering surplus harvest. In a country where 43 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, the additional income becomes a significant investment in helping to cushion a family from future shocks such as unexpected medical bills or serve as initial capital to begin small business ventures.

CRS has worked in Lesotho since 2002.  

Info: www.crs.org or www.crsespanol.org.

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