Friday, January 18, 2013

Small keys can open big doors

I have recently been working on an essay as part of my Masters programme (MA) on urban agriculture in South Africa.  I have been fascinated by Keyhole gardens which are being initiated throughout Lesotho.  Lesotho, is a small, independent, land-locked country, within South Africa, approximately the same size as Wales.
Keyhole gardens are being established, in rural areas, as a way for households to grow their own food.  The Government of Lesotho declared an emergency food crisis on the 9th August 2012 and there seems to be an on-going problem of food insecurity.

Keyhole gardens appear to be a wonderful idea.  I am not certain of whether the science works behind them- but the principle of construction is very simple.  The gardens are generally quite small- you build a circular wall- using bricks or rocks or whatever you can find.  This area is filled with soil to create a raised bed, in the shape of a keyhole, with a gap to walk in to the middle.  In the centre is a hole, to ground level, which enables you to literally 'feed' the soil of your garden with organic matter and water.  This is where the 'science' comes in.
Photograph by Tanveer Badal at
There has been an interest in developing Keyhole gardens in other areas of the world, including Afghanistan.  I can imagine the merits of such a simple technology being used in areas that have been affected by war or natural disaster, which might enable households to become less reliant on food aid.
Keyhole gardens are even making their way into other parts of the globe, such as the USA and UK, where school-children are building their own gardens, growing their own food and learning about organic principles.

Photo by Send a Cow at
Now, I would like to see if Keyhole gardens may be of use to the urban poor in their own activities of food growing in towns and cities throughout the economic-developing world.  For example, within the many townships of South Africa where soil quality is often very poor.  Could this concept enable growers to focus their efforts on achieving small, but fertile gardens?

It may not produce huge quantities of food, however, to many low income families, any financial savings they can make on food expenditure will make a real difference to their lives.  There are also huge social benefits to enabling families (everywhere) to spend time together with nature, nurturing seeds, watching things grow, participating in physical activity and eating what they sow. 

1 comment:

Helen Weaver said...

Hi Michael. Seems like a brilliant idea...I know you say the land is poor but surly with the leaves that are not used compost can be made and the cycle would get off to a flying start