April 18, 2018 | By Tatenda Ndambakuwa

Guest Commentary - For Refugees, Community Gardens Become a Healing Place

By Tatenda Ndambakuwa, a 2018 Next Generation Delegate
A refugee is defined as an individual fleeing war, violence, or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. According to UNHCR, 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home in the last year–among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees and over half of them are under the age of 18. Further statistics indicate that nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution.
 
Forced displacement has multiple correlations with food insecurity. Emergency food aid is crucial in the short term of refugee crises, but sustainable long-term food access is not often considered for displaced populations. Refugees from rural communities likely leave farmland behind with their homes, while urban and suburban refugees leave behind familiar food markets and marketplaces. Without these previous sources of food security, displaced populations can suffer from malnutrition, which can cause stunting and disease. Access to adequate healthcare in refugee camps to remedy these conditions is often limited. All refugees leave behind the sense of community they had in their home countries and alienation may lead to depression.
 
In order to ensure food security, good nutrition, and a sense of belonging for this vulnerable population, investments in communal gardens for refugees should be considered as an innovative solution. Agriculture and gardening projects could mean access to fresh produce, less food spoilage, and more time spent in community activities with others. Refugees of all ages and abilities can be part of these agricultural initiatives.
 
Uganda, for example, is host to the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. Since July 2017, more than one million South Sudanese refugees have crossed into the country and this number is predicted to hit 1.8 million by the end of 2018. With food shortages looming and some refugees even returning temporarily to Sudan in an attempt to harvest their abandoned fields, Uganda instituted a “liberal refugee program that grants access to healthcare, education, and freedom of movement.” Within the program, each refugee family is granted a parcel of land to farm. A new type of super bean was distributed to refugee families to cultivate as the crop is uniquely suited for Uganda’s climate and is drought-resistant, highly nutritious, and produces high yields. Educating refugees on agricultural methods and giving them the land and seeds to farm has proven to be more efficient than trying to provide 1.8 million people with food aid through government infrastructure or non-governmental organizations.
 
Channeling the same means but on a different scale from the Sudanese refugee gardens in Uganda, members of a Minnesota church group have helped waves of refugees from Bhutan integrate through the use of community gardens as a community building resource and a personal healing space. According to a study published in the journal Community Health, “Refugee gardeners expressed receiving physical and emotional benefits from gardening, including a sense of identity with their former selves. Gardens may serve as a meaningful health promotion intervention for refugees and immigrants adjusting to the complexity of their new lives in the United States and coping with past traumas.” The study also observed health benefits to the 78 percent of refugee gardeners who reported an increase in their consumption of vegetables as a result of their participation in the project.
 
These gardens provide a source of community, support, healthy food, healing from trauma, and relationship-building within refugee populations and among local residents. Undoubtedly, community gardens can promote a stronger quality of life, particularly for displaced populations in need of food security and belonging.

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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