In many developing countries food insecurity remains a major issue, influenced on different levels and by a variety of underlying causes. On a Macro level, a countries' food resources might be directly limited due to factors such as climatic changes, insufficient agricultural outputs or a countries' economic situation. On a Micro level, although food in general might be readily available, the access to it might be limited for certain population groups, especially the most vulnerable due to limited access to food markets, high prices and limited water availability. To find sustainable solutions and promote food security it is of major importance to understand the context and combine all the factors influencing the local food system.

“Food security is given when all people at all times have access to sufficient nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for and active and healthy life”. - as defined by FAO

If we think about undernutrition and hunger in the world, the most obvious picture we have in mind is the consumption of only very little food, so limited in quantity that it leaves the individual starving. However, this is not the only form of undernutrition. Another form just as severe and with devastating impacts on health is the so called 'Hidden Hunger'. As the name already implies it is a form of hunger that might not be apparent at first sight. An individual might seem well nourished yet lack very important macronutrients such as proteins and micronutrients including vitamins and minerals such as Iron, Vitamin A and Iodine. Most frequent diseases caused by micronutrient deficiencies include anaemia, giotar and xerohthalmia, leading to health impairments affecting an individual’s quality of life. Micronutrient deficiencies may lead to severe health impairments and are especially concerning in mothers and children as it may compromise their development and thus future life.

To cope with food insecurity, affected households are often forced to adapt different coping strategies, reflecting its severity. These might range from making compromises in the quantity and variety of foods consumed, to reducing food quantity and skipping meals to not being able to eat for days in the most severe state. Moderate food insecurity therefore may not only lead to a reduction of overall foods consumed, yet also to reducing the variety of foods included in the diet and mainly relying on starchy staples such as cassava, maze, and rice as fast energy sources. The result is a diet limited in nutritional quality, decreasing the consumption of vitamins and minerals, and hence making food insecurity not only direct factor influencing dietary quality but also one of the many underlying causes for micronutrient deficiencies.


Considering that two billion people are affected by food insecurity globally and 340 million children suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, the magnitude of the issue becomes undeniable. With the implementation of the sustainable development goals, the united nations together with many governments and non-governmental organisations committed to ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture by 2030 amongst many other goals. However, with food security still being on the rise the achievements of these goals are still far out of reach. Therefore, the common efforts of governments, policy makers as well as leading and smaller NGO’s are necessary to reverse the wheel and achieve change.

Taking the scope with which we can contribute- and the impact we can have in the fight against hunger into account, our focus lies in supporting small interventions aiming to promote food security on the micro-level. This means that we aim to increase individuals and communities’ access to nutritious food, making them more resilient to environmental, political as well as economic disasters and therefore providing sustainable and long-term solutions. Implementing school gardens not only supplies food directly for the school feeding programmes, evidence suggests it is also a strategy to improve a communities' food security.

“We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbours. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.” Grace Lee Boggs

Growing their own food has many benefits for a community. It is a simple and cost-effective way to provide fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. A study looking at prices of different foods based on the calories they supply found that nutrient dense foods are usually more expensive compared to starchy staples. Green leafy vegetables for example are usually more expensive, considering their low calorie content and the amounts needed for sufficient energy supply. Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A were found to be fairly expensive across most countries. When investigating the effectiveness of community gardens in improving nutrition, evidence concluded that they are especially valuable in reducing micronutrient deficiencies as the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, leads to a higher intake of many important vitamins and minerals. Community gardens are therefore most valuable for the most vulnerable population groups which usually would not have access to these foods.


Additionally, community gardens may have the potential to increase a community’s resilience and independence. This accounts especially for communities in urban areas, where people are highly dependent on markets for their daily food supplies food. Financial shocks and high inflation rates highly affect market prices. In times of financial distress, the poorest communities are therefore most likely to become food insecure. Setting up a community garden therefore decreases the dependence on fluctuating market prices and provides the potential of a diverse diet even in times of crisis. Furthermore, a garden may have economic benefits through the savings achieved by growing food, as well as the potential to create an additional income by selling the surplus in production. To close the cycle, the economic benefits might not only lie at the individual level but also might improve the local economy, as the savings can be used on other products and supplies.

Finally, community gardens can also be used as an important ground for empowerment. Providing youth with agricultural training can facilitate them with important life skills, but also giving them the possibility to share their knowledge and empower others and support their households. Evidence also suggests that community gardens can play an important role in women's empowerment. Although women in developing countries are already heavily involved in the agricultural sector, when being cautious to not add to their already exhausting workload, getting involved in community gardens is shown to have the effect of improving a women’s social as well as economic status.


In conclusion, besides offering a strategy to increase a households' food security and improve overall nutrition, community gardens also have the potential to improve a communities' economy and provide a place for social and cultural exchange.

Written by Ramona Engler, MA Nutrition for Global Health 

References:

Bird, F. A, Pradhan, A., Bhavani, R. V., Dangour, Alan D., 2019. ‘Interventions in agriculture for nutrition outcomes: A systematic review focused on South Asia’, Food Policy, 82, pp. 39–49. doi: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2018.10.015.

Durao, S., Visser, M. E., Ramokolo, V., Oliveira, J. M., Schmidt, B. M., Balakrishna, Y., … Schoonees, A., 2020. Community-level interventions for improving access to food in low- and middle-income countries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD011504.pub3

FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2020. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020.
Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. Rome, FAO.
https://doi.org/10.4060/ca9692en

Galhena, D. H., Freed, R. and Maredia, K. M., 2013. ‘Home gardens: A promising approach to enhance household food security and wellbeing’, Agriculture and Food Security. BioMed Central Ltd., p. 8. doi: 10.1186/2048-7010-2-8.

Global Nutrition Report, 2020: Action on equity to end malnutrition. Bristol, UK:
Development Initiatives. Available from: 2020 Global Nutrition Report - Global Nutrition Report

Kjeldsberg, C., Shrestha, N., Patel, M., Davis, D., Mundy, G., Cunningham, K., 2018. ‘Nutrition‐sensitive agricultural interventions and gender dynamics: A qualitative study in Nepal’, Maternal & Child Nutrition, 14(3). doi: 10.1111/mcn.12593.