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Keyhole Garden Grows Nutrition, Prosperity

By Ibrahim Suliman Mohamed

Darou Abdulmalik is doing something remarkable with help from something remarkably simple. She is feeding her family of 11 in Sudan with the nutritious vegetables she grows at home in Kulbus, West Darfur—in a 6-foot diameter plot called a keyhole garden.

Darou Abdulmalik with her keyhole garden.

Darou Abdulmalik feeds her family of 11 with the nutritious vegetables she grows in her keyhole garden next to the family home in West Darfur, Sudan. Photo by Mohamed Suliman Ibrahim/CRS

"Since I built my keyhole garden in April, I have harvested 15 times," Darou says. "Now, I am not suffering and I have vegetables in my house at all times. My children and I, we are very healthy."

This innovative gardening technique blossomed after Darou and other women in the Asma Savings and Internal Lending Community, a microfinance group, wanted to grow vegetables they could sell at market. The keyhole garden pilot program helps families increase their food supply and their income—using their own backyards.

Before Catholic Relief Services brought keyhole gardens to her group, Darou frequently worried about her children's health. Now, with this remarkably simple innovation, the women of Asma SILC group are pioneering a garden-to-table movement in their communities.

The Benefits Are Many

The gardens in Kulbus offer welcome benefits to the women and girls. Frequently, they must travel long distances to fetch water, putting their personal safety at risk. The gardens, though, are built close to each family's home and the keyhole design promotes water retention. Building and maintaining the gardens require little labor, making them ideal for pregnant women and others who find it difficult to maintain a large farm tract.

Khadija Musa with two of her children

In Sudan, Khadija Musa and two of her nine children stand next to the family's keyhole garden, which provides food for the family plus surplus produce to sell at market. Photo by Mohamed Suliman Ibrahim/CRS

Khadija Musa volunteered early on to participate in the keyhole garden pilot program. Today, she and her husband are growing radishes, salad greens and millet, which are nourishing their family of nine.

"I am happy that we eat some of the vegetables at home and sell some surplus," she says. "I use the money that I get from selling the vegetables to buy soap, matches, salt and sugar, and I continue to save with SILC."

Because of shallow wells, water availability in Kulbus is limited. The keyhole gardens, though, have made life easier since the structure retains moisture. Since establishing her garden 5 months ago, Khadija is able to feed her children a balanced diet, which translates into improved health. At the same time, she says, "My husband and I are gaining a few pounds [Sudanese currency] to use for other household requirements."

Before she built her keyhole garden, Khadija relied on a food program to feed her children. "I am now able to even share some of my garden produce with others in my community who do not have vegetables," she says.

"I am really grateful to CRS for this support that my family got," adds Khadija. "This will go a long way in reducing the problems of malnutrition within this community since other community members are showing signs of wanting to adopt the keyhole garden."

Ibrahim Suliman Mohamed is a CRS project officer on the food security and livelihoods team. He is based in El Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan.

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