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Fighting hunger, one garden at the time. How grassroots initiatives are transforming slums

· 3 Minute Read
slum dwellers international

People who live in slums deal with a multitude of struggles on a daily basis, including the access to enough, healthy and nutritious food. According to community leaders from Zambia and the Philippines, urban agriculture could transform informal settlements for good. Melanie Chirwa: “It shows that people in slums are not the problem, but in fact can be part of the solution.”

Supporting bottom-up change: this is what Slum Dwellers International, a global network of community-based organizations in informal settlements, is all about. From savings schemes to permaculture gardens: the non-profit empowers the urban poor in hundreds of cities and towns across Africa, Asia and Latin America through all sorts of projects. Melanie Chirwa and Catherine Mulauzi from Zambia, both members of the Slum Dwellers International Global Network, have experienced firsthand how transformative growing food in slums can be.

“In Zambia, about forty percent of people live in urban areas, of which seventy percent reside in informal settlements”, Melanie explains. “These slums are characterized by overcrowding, poor access to water, sanitation and services in general. Most people make their money through informal businesses, which means food security is a luxury many cannot afford.”

City governments should not look at communities in informal settlements as the problem, but as part of the solution – Melanie Chirwa

Permaculture gardens

By connecting community leaders from different countries during exchange programs, Slum Dwellers International enables people like Melanie to learn from other communities and implement their best practices. “A while ago, the Living Permaculture Project, an organization from Namibia that runs over a hundred gardens in informal settlements, visited our communities to educate us”, says Melanie. “They taught us how to set up the gardens, make compost and use natural pesticides out of things like hot chilies to protect our produce.” Her colleague Catherine continues: “Now that our gardens are up and running, we hope to inspire other informal settlements in Zambia to follow in our footsteps and start embracing permaculture as well.”

As soon as our voices are heard, we can create informal settlements that are green, secure and free of pollution – Ofelia Bagotlo

Slum Dwellers International

Shifting perspectives

According to Melanie, the bottom-up approach of the urban agriculture gardens gives the communities a sense of ownership and self-value. “But it also opens up the minds of people who do not live in the informal settlements themselves, like city government officials”, Melanie adds. “It shows them that the inhabitants of slums are not part of the problem, but are in fact part of the solution.”

This is something Ofelia Bagotlo from the Philippines recognizes. As a federation leader and management member of Slum Dwellers International, she works on the ground in informal settlements in the Philippines trying to start an urban gardening revolution. “We are combating hunger, one garden at the time. The locals who are involved are incredibly pleased, because the result of their hard work is very tangible. In addition, it unites people from different informal settlements. The gardens provide a safe place where people come together and give each other hope and inspiration. As soon as city governments realize that the solution lies within communities and their bottom-up solutions, we can create informal settlements that are green, secure and free of pollution. So may our voice be heard, all over the world.”

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Photos by: Mactavish (Michael Chanda)