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Zimbabwe whites survive current famine with kitchen-gardens

By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 7, 2009 in Food
Backyard farmers in Harare, the capital of famine-struck Zimbabwe, now probably produce more fresh food than do the country's few remaining state-run farms. And much of this is due to one dispossessed farmer, Eric Harrison - an African Johnny Appleseed.
The green-fingered Harrison - who has always loved the challenge of turning arid wasteland into fertile, crop-producing farms, has not only turned his own kitchen-garden into an instant produce market for many destitute Harare neighbours, but has for the past three years also been teaching and advising hundreds of other hard-hit residents, often members of a large variety of genteel social- and gardening clubs who can't afford to leave Harare, on how to keep themselves from starving. He invites them to his own backyard for regular training sessions. Garden club members all over Harare have torn up their carefully-manicured lawns on Harrison's advice, and have become very adept at growing survival food.
Also see Bulawayo resident Margaret Kriel's first-person account on Digital Journal here
He was farming citrus products on about 1,000 hectares of unused wasteland outside Harare thirty years ago, vastly improving the soil and turning it into a commercial success. After he was kicked of this land with considerable violence as were so many other thousands of farmers who suffered this fate, he was forced to move to a suburban home in Harare.
He first set to to record his ordeal for for posterity in his book called Jambanja - which means 'fighting, chaos and terror' in one of the local languages. In it, he also listed details of the 16 white commercial farmers and many hundreds of black farm workers who were all murdered in Mugabe's socalled land reform period between 2000 and 2006. Jambanja's author also predicted the current economic collapse, growing famine and disease epidemics with eerie precision, writing that the country would implode from about November 2007.
Then he set about with a very determined plan: to prepare as many people as he could for the famine which was sure to come -- because Mugabe had destroyed Zimbabwe's once so lavish food-producing economy when he confiscated the 'white owned' commercial farms which had produced such massive quantities of food-crops only a decade ago. Most of those farms now have returned to infertile wasteland. The crops still being produced in Zimbabwe all go straight to Mugabe's state-food distribution machine: and this food is only handed out to his own military and policing forces.
Harrison turned 36 square metres of his Harare backyard into 4 foot by 4 foot stands which now produce a constant stream of fresh produce.
He has spread his skills around very pro-actively, inviting the members of scores of all kinds of social clubs to his backyard to show them how to survive the famine. These kitchen gardens, spread across Harare's once so carefully-manicured suburbs, now keep alive many frail, elderly genteel people who can't afford to flee the country. Most are born in the UK but are trapped.
People still need to eat
During his talks, he generally first fires up his backyard-gardeners by advising them that they now are fighting a new kind of war - the war of survival. "One fact of life amidst this growing political crisis,' he tells his large groups of club members, 'people still need to eat.'
He uses the 'four-square gardening' concept, also much loved by Dutch, Flemish and American kitchen-gardeners, portioning up the gardens with 4 foot by four foot wooden frames, portioned with planks to make up 16 individual squares. It's a terrific way to garden, he tells the many gardening clubs ladies who arrive to ask him for advice. Their yields from such highly fertile mini-fields will be much more than one individual can eat each day. And there's a lot less water needed to irrigate them - and no fertiliser at all.
"The vegetables can be planted individually in 1-foot squares which makes spacing them much easier; it takes 5 minutes to weed one block,' he said during one such recent session.
"And trellises at one end can carry climbing vegetables such as butternut, gem squash, cucumber, melons, beans and peas. And they require a lot less watering."
He says that 'the most incredible advantage of this 4 square gardening system in these times where there are power and water cuts on a daily basis – is the high saving on water.
There's no fertiliser: instead he has put to work his secret army of hard-working worms, which turn all his kitchen scraps, swept up leaves and manure into a steady stream of the richest, blackest, most fertile soil imaginable.
“The secret of worm breeding is the food they eat. I feed mine on a compost that I make, and is completed within 2 weeks.”
Naturalist Charles Darwin also had a similar admiration for worms, studying them at length at his own estate. He discovered that they eat their own weight every two to three days; and that the food is passed through their bodies as socalled worm casings - which is the richest natural balanced fertilizer known to man.
Another major advantage is that these nifty, hardworking, silent little pets don't want any pay for this magnificent job either, except some kitchen scraps every day or so.
His instruction sessions generally draw forty to fifty people each time.
His green thumb has now spread throughout Harare and undoubtedly has already saved many lives.
At least 8,2 million people of Zimbabwe's 12 million people now are in dire need of food aid.
Its government has asked for 'donor support' to import at least 900 000 tonnes of maize (corn) and 150 000 tonnes of wheat, And it's a guarantee that Mugabe will not allow any of this food-aid to reach Harare's trapped white old-age pensioners.
At the moment, more than half of the popluation is reaching the final stages of starvation, with people now very badly malnourished, the World Health Organisation warns.
More about 4x4 gardening, Kitchen garden, Survival farming harare, Farmer eric harrison
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