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Terre des hommes (uk)

16.10.2019 - News

Keyhole Gardens on World Food Day

Surrounded by the rich greenery of the mangroves of the Sundarbans, in India, it may be surprising that malnutrition is commonplace. Though the rivers are rich with fish and the mango trees ripe with fruit, environmental issues make life increasingly difficult for many.  

The area is disaster prone and characterised by poverty, food insecurity and limited access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. Education levels are low. Climate change exacerbates the situation: salt-water intrusion from rising sea levels reduces freshwater supply. 

For those providing for families, a keyhole garden is a simple solution that allows households to grow a range of their own vegetables, and even make some extra cash or share food with their neighbours. The following video demonstrates what a keyhole garden is and the impacts it can have: 

Keyhole garden, a pilot project in Bangladesh from Terre des hommes on Vimeo.

Keyhole gardens are named after their shape. A keyhole garden is a raised-bed vegetable garden built in the shape of a circle measuring about 6 feet in diameter. The “keyhole” part of the garden holds a compost basket that moistens and nourishes the soil. They are helpful in the following ways: 

     -Space efficiency as nutrient-rich compost allows higher planting density of seeds; 

     -Flood resiliency as the beds are raised above flood levels; 

     -Improved moisture and nutrient retention thanks to the compost pile in the centre, thus requiring less water in hot and dry climates; 

     -Easy maintenance with no heavy digging; and

     -Diversified vegetable production for household consumption throughout the year. 

Our Canning-II project is helping 250 families build their own keyhole gardens, enabling them to grow a variety of leafy and root vegetables, as well as spices. Families can rely on a more diverse diet year round, delicious and nutritious meal opportunities, and can even use their keyhole garden vegetables as a source of extra income in some cases by selling excess veg. 

Kalyani Sardar was an early adopter of keyhole gardens after hearing of the potential benefits. Within two weeks, her garden was thriving: 

“I tried growing vegetables at home so many times but failed due to soil salinity [saltiness]; I never thought a keyhole garden could produce so many vegetables”.  

Kalyani was so inspired by the success of her garden that during the meetings of women’s groups in the community, she actively encouraged her neighbours to grow keyhole nutrition gardens, even offering to help set them up. 

As well as the initiative shown by Kalyani and others, high-quality compost is an important component for successful keyhole gardens. A perhaps misunderstood source of highly nutritional compost is humans themselves. That’s where toilets come in! 

Terre des hommes has worked with local authorities in the Canning II area of the Sundarbans on the construction of ‘Ecosan’ toilets. The EcoSan toilet is a closed system that does not require water, and is an excellent option when water is scarce or groundwater contamination likely. These toilets also benefit from being odourless, and are raised to respond to the risk of flooding. The toilet is based on the principle of recovery and recycling of nutrients from waste, to create a valuable resource for gardening and farming. Learn more about Ecosan toilets in the following video: 

Terre des Hommes India - Ecosan Toilets from Kamal Musale on Vimeo.

When the pit of an EcoSan toilet fills up, it is closed and sealed. After about eight to nine months, the faeces are completely composted and can be safely used to promote growth of vegetables in keyhole gardens. Around 1500 people in the Canning II region will be using Ecosan toilets by 2020. 

Simple solutions like well-designed, eco-friendly gardens and toilets, are often the easiest and most sustainable ways to improve WASH and Nutrition for children and their families. We’ve tested these simple innovations with thousands of people in South Asia like Kalyani, and with her drive and enthusiasm to share keyhole gardens, for example, we hope to reach many more people in the region. 

The Canning II project is funded by the James Percy Foundation in the UK, and managed by Human Development Centre, Terre des hommes India Foundation, and Terre des hommes UK. All photos and text – Tdh. For more information, please contact or tweet @Tdh_UK  

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