Tanzania’s First Gardens

06 Apr 2011

More than 200 children, parents, teachers, farmers, beekeepers and community representatives came together on April 1 to inaugurate the new food garden in Msindo, a tiny village in southern Tanzania, marking the launch of the A Thousand Gardens in Africa project here. Many of them had walked for hours, but were there early as the celebrations got underway in this remote location.

Msindo is a 16-hour drive from Dar Es Salaam, not far from the Mozambican border, in an area visited rarely by tourists or even Tanzanians. The last stretch of road is unpaved and often impassable during the rainy season. There is no internet service. Those who came to the celebration had received a letter, delivered by hand to their school or village, or heard about the event through word-of-mouth as curiosity about this new farming project grew.

As people gathered, a group of students in neat uniforms distributed brochures in Swahili, explaining Slow Food and the A Thousand Gardens in Africa project. Food producers brought honey, moringa leaves and seeds, cassava flour and baskets to display. As the group grew, the arrival of a representative from the Namtumbo province signaled the time for the visitors to walk to the garden together.

The bustani na Slow Food, the Slow Food garden, is located in the midst of a Miombo forest, characterized by the dominance of leguminous trees. A steep path lined with fruit trees leads to the plot of around a third of a hectare, bounded by a fence made of wood and bamboo canes.

Established five years ago as part of a sustainable agricultural training center set up by COPE, an Italian NGO, the garden was designed and planted with great care to feature only traditional plants. After speaking with elderly people and women in the surrounding villages about the typical food plants, seeds were gathered to plant mlenda, mapwete and masuku trees, various types of amaranth, black-eyed peas, bambarà beans, okra, sorghum and more.

Banana trees grow in the midst of the garden, while sweet potatoes, climbing potatoes, taro and yam have been planted around the perimeter. Surrounding the garden are mango, papaya, orange, lemon, guava, karangamiti and other fruit trees, as well as medicinal trees like neem and Moringa oleifera. The garden also includes a plant nursery, a chicken coop and a small traditional house made of wood, mud and straw.

After the official cutting of the ribbon, the celebrations got underway with traditional dances and songs performed between speeches from teachers involved in the project, as well as representatives from Slow Food, COPE and the local authorities. To end the day women offered traditional dishes of millet, cassava ugali, vegetables, beans and peanut sauces.

Started as a pilot project through a collaboration between Slow Food and COPE, the garden was set up by two teachers from the agricultural training center, Joseph Kapungo and Makrina Komba. They use it to train young people at the center and it will now serve as a model for all the schools and communities who will join the A Thousand Gardens in Africa project over the coming months.

The Msindo food garden is the second to be established in Tanzania as part of this project. Just one week earlier, a smaller urban project was launched at the Mikocheni primary school in Dar Es Salaam. With participation from 16 teachers and 50 students, the school’s food garden is planted with traditional leafy vegetables including sweet potatoes, amaranth and pumpkins as well as banana, papaya and other fruit trees.

The garden was able to be created thanks to collaboration with the Tanzanian women’s association RESEWO, which has been working for many years to promote traditional vegetables. The association worked with Slow Food to publish a cookbook promoting local leafy vegetables in English and Swahili last year.

With the first two Slow Food gardens now officially launched, a network of local coordinators established, and growing community support, the A Thousand Gardens in Africa project is off to a great start in Tanzania. Coordinators are now working in different regions of the country to identify the new projects, engaging with communities, village and schools as well as spreading the Slow Food philosophy and continuing to collect and disseminate information about traditional plants.

Tanzania’s first two food gardens, as well as research carried out on traditional products, have been made possible by support from the Veneto Regional Authority.

For more information:

Click here to view photos of the inauguration.

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