With the COVID-19 pandemic causing global economic downturns, food insecurity and unemployment, many communities in developing countries have turned to small-scale farming and home gardening as a solution. When the pandemic took full effect in March 2020, an upward trend in gardening around the world followed. In developing countries where access to food was dangerously inhibited by the pandemic’s economic effects, embracing small-scale gardening became crucial. To navigate a food crisis, residents of various developing countries embraced gardening and its many benefits, plotting gardens wherever they could find land. In addition to helping communities survive a food crisis by staving off hunger and providing necessary nutrients, gardening also supports struggling local economies and improves mental health. Gardening is helping people survive a pandemic and has taken root to assist communities to cope with the crisis.
3 Places Where Gardening is Helping People
- Palestine: In Palestine, the recent farming initiative began when a municipality near Bethlehem reacted to surging unemployment and poverty rates by distributing various herb and vegetable seedlings for residents to plant in their yards. By June 2020, some produce was already ripe for picking. Noting the success of this effort, the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry distributed over one million seedlings and the Applied Research Institute in Bethlehem (ARIJ) contributed 40,000 seedlings. Residents that lack land are encouraged to move their gardening efforts to the roof and the ARIJ is instructing them on how to construct gardens with easily attainable equipment like water pipes. The ARIJ has also brought these gardening initiatives to refugee camps, helping them build planting boxes and even greenhouses so crops can be grown all year. By increasing home gardens, residents have been able to better sustain themselves and benefit from the satisfaction of harvesting from their own gardens.
- Lebanon: Prior to the pandemic, the Lebanese economy was already struggling and the added hardship of COVID-19 led to empty supermarket shelves. Since 2019, Lebanon’s currency has decreased in value by 80% and poverty has risen to over 50%. Following a massive explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020, that destroyed Lebanon’s largest port, imports, which make up the majority of Lebanon’s food supply, are even harder to come by. However, similar to Palestine, officials have urged residents to take up gardening as a means to survive. Residents are utilizing plentiful family land or backyard spaces to plant vegetables and raise chicken and sheep and many are freezing food to prepare for a tough winter. In March 2020, the Ghaletna initiative was created to connect people to their land by teaching farming techniques and helping disperse surplus yield to families most in need. Beyond supplementing Lebanon’s food stocks, these gardens provide residents with a sense of comfort knowing that they no longer have to rely solely on imports. Likewise, this transition is prompting Lebanese people to embrace traditional, local foods.
- South Africa: In South Africa, gardening is helping people as well. A local farming initiative is not only helping its community by providing produce but is also helping the area’s economic recovery. In the Uitenhage region, a small-scale farming effort called the Lima Gardening Initiative began when three men with no gardening or farming experience bought a plot of land just as lockdown took effect. Gardening efforts began with spinach, cabbage and beetroot but has expanded since March and locals are now able to purchase produce at affordable prices. In addition to supplying the community with easily accessible food, a primary goal of the Initiative is to encourage youth participation and change the idea that gardening is for the elderly. Once the produce is harvestable, the Initiative plans to employ the youth and help correct rising unemployment. Additionally, the group hopes to use the profit they attain from selling produce at affordable prices to open a soup kitchen and further give back to the community. Through these efforts, the Lima Gardening Initiative is helping a South African community adjust to the economic effects of the pandemic.
Although these farming initiatives began out of necessity, people in Palestine, Lebanon, South Africa and other countries around the world are learning the benefits of gardening. Beyond coming into use in a time of economic crisis and food shortage, residential and small-scale gardening is helping to support local economies, employing those in need and providing gardeners with a sense of satisfaction and a safe haven.
– Angelica Smyrnios