Less than 2 years ago, Kuzamura Ubuzima was just an idea: a very hopeful solution to the desperate plight of some of the patients we saw daily. While providing food was essential, we knew it wasn’t enough. We wanted to grow nutritive crops on hospital grounds and teach patients’ families about sustainable farming and food preparation to optimize their nutrition – and here we are now doing just that!
In addition to the ongoing cooking demonstrations, health education, and teaching about the benefits of moringa, last week, our agronomist and training manager demonstrated how to create a balanced compost heap to some of the patients’ caregivers. They talked about how to take care of the soil as a way to improve the growth and quality of crops, and, by extension, to improve their families’ health. Interestingly, this was new information for most of them. Beyond interesting, it was a bit concerning as over 90% of Rwandans are engaged in agriculture, and a great majority are subsistence farmers: meaning almost all of the food that they grow provides almost all of their families’ nutrition.
Rwanda is one of the most populous countries in the world, and land holdings progressively shrink with every generation. With limited land for cultivation that are mostly on hillsides and degraded from erosion and poor soil practices, farm productivity is very low. As a result, many families experience food insecurity to which children and unborn fetuses are most vulnerable, as reflected in the unacceptably high numbers of stunting (from chronic malnutrition), premature births, and birth defects.
Improving family nutrition makes everyone more resistant to illness, and makes them more resilient when they do fall ill, just as soil rich in organic matter helps crops to resist pests and diseases, and makes them more resilient in the setting of a changing climate.
These are what motivated us 2 years ago and continue to drive us today. We laid a strong foundation based on our beliefs about health equity and how our health is inextricably linked to the health of the environment. Our staff and volunteers, who work closely with our beneficiaries, continue to build on that foundation and constantly respond to families’ requests for training and to their suggestions for improvements in our program.
This year, we will redouble our efforts to provide even more patients with life-saving food while they are recovering; teach more families about how their health is connected to the environment’s, and how to take care of both; provide more moringa seeds, and perhaps small livestock; and conduct short practical training on income-generating projects, like bee-keeping and growing mushrooms.
We are deeply grateful for all the support we have received from friends, family, colleagues, and especially from our partners in Germany, Eat to Fight Your Disease, without whose partnership we could not have accomplished all we have.