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05/13/2013

Planting nutritious gardens to grow healthy children

Afghan garden2

An Afghan woman discusses planting a kitchen garden in a small village outside Herat.
(Courtesy: World Vision)

The flowers you gave your mom yesterday for Mother’s Day probably look lovely on her dining table this morning and the brunch to celebrate now a cozy memory of the weekend as she gets back to the business of being a mother. The school run, packing lunches, sorting out laundry to name a few.

For some Afghan mothers that means sowing fruit and vegetable seedlings in the kitchen garden as the spring planting season gets underway.

Chronic malnutrition is a major problem in Afghanistan – 60 per cent of children suffer from stunted growth and one in three are underweight. To help mothers learn how to make sure their children get the nutrients they need, the charity World Vision has started 770 gardens in two provinces which are the worst affected and looking to expand the program.

Eggplants, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, okra, are some of the foods mothers in Ghor and Baghdis provinces are planting which they will harvest later in the summer to cook for their families.

I spoke to Lindsay Gladding, World Vision Canada’s senior program manager who is in Herat city, the capital of the western province of Herat where she is starting to identify villages that have the worst nutrition problems.

The issue isn’t lack of availability: Afghanistan’s fertile valleys yield delicious and plentiful produce ranging from apricots to pomegranates, apples to beans, tomatoes, spinach and many more.

The trouble is getting it to the table.

"We know mothers have responsibility for preparing food for their families and the experience we’ve had is the fruits and vegetables are not accessible," she told me. "They don’t have the seeds and if they do have seeds in the markets the families don’t have money to buy it."

With the help of Afghan authorities, the charity identifies families which have the worst malnutrition. Those who have access to a bit of land are given a choice of fruits and vegetables to grow. The seeds are nurtured in a greenhouse and after a few weeks the young saplings are transferred to the ground.

Gladding said in some villages cooking demonstrations are held in health clinics where mothers are invited to watch. Or sometimes, mothers with healthy children become involved in teaching their neighbours how to prepare nutritious foods. But access to clean water to maintain the gardens is a big problem and in many cases women have to walk an hour to the nearest well or stream.

The Afghan diet is heavy on carbohydrates and starch: rice, served with bread or potatoes and if they are lucky a little bit of mutton. All of this cooked with a lot of vegetable oil. Good food is linked to good health.

"The one thing we hear a lot is the high maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates and I want to stress that malnutrition is a significant cause of both," Gladding says.

Something to think about before rolling your eyes next time your mom tells you to finish your broccoli.

READ MORE: Afghan doctor working as a tailor in Toronto

 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

 

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