Across Swaziland and southern Africa, an exceptionally severe drought has destroyed all crops in some areas. Those living in the countryside have been affected worst of all. An estimated 25 per cent of the population, or more than 320,000 people, are in desperate need of food assistance.
With crops ruined, some innovation is required to maintain an adequate food supply. The Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross Society is assisting families in securing food by training people to build "keyhole gardens" where vegetables such as carrots, onions, lettuce, spinach and beets can be grown.
The gardens, which reach 1.5 metres in diameter, are named after their keyhole-like shape and can be built by Red Cross volunteers and community members in one day. The goal of the National Society is to build 250 gardens across the country and distribute seeds to more than 1,000 households this year.
Thus far, three gardens have been built, and they have been received with enthusiasm, says Siphelele Kingsbirthday Mkhonta, the agricultural expert of the Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross Society.
"All gardens are built out of existing materials," Mkhonta says. "All we need are people who are motivated to participate in building a keyhole garden. They teach their neighbours, who teach others, and so on."
Gardens built on tin cans and bones
To build a keyhole garden, you need materials such as rusty tin cans, animal bones, and large stones. The rusty tin cans and animal bones help keep the humidity within the garden soil. A compost is built in the middle of the garden, and the decomposing plants and leftovers release more nutrients into the soil.
"This is a good model, since the vegetables grow quickly and better than in our own patches. I believe the gardens will already give us food after the first month. We'd like to build another one," says Rejoice Sithole, whose neighbourhood built one of the first keyhole gardens in Swaziland.
Did you know?
A keyhole garden is built in layers:
In the first layer, rusty tin cans are piled up and covered with soil, sand, grass and ash.
In the second layer, aloe leaves and animal bones are piled up and covered with a mix of soil and animal manure.
In the third layer, broken clay pots or fist-sized stones are piled up and covered with a mix of soil and animal manure.
Each layer is bordered with large stones, forming a wall.
A compost frame with a layer of fist-sized stones at the bottom is built in the middle of the garden.
The seeds are planted at 20-centimetre intervals, and then watered.
Source: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies