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In 2008, more than 50,000 internally displaced people took refuge in host communities and formal camps on the Goma and Sake corridor in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Most of the camp residents were farmers, but there was little to no opportunity for them to use their skills. To give these farmers a chance to feed their families, Mercy Corps piloted a new method of gardening for these camps, building household kitchen gardens constructed from soil and burlap sacks.
The technology was simple – a mixture of soil and compost in a burlap sack with holes cut in the sides for planting seedlings and seeds. A spine of rocks cut through the center of the sack allowing the water and compost to seep down and reach all of the seeds. The sacks were placed vertically, using minimal space in the cramped sites, directly outside of a family’s hut.
Mercy Corps agronomists constructed a demonstration area with sample germination plots around the camps and facilitated regular trainings with the owners of the sack gardens. In addition to promoting affordable, the project also promoted organic farming practices as an alternative to pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Banana peels, animal manure, and other organic materials are all used for composting.
The gardens are affordable and efficient, taking up less than two square feet of valuable space, but producing vegetables the equivalent of up to a ten-square-feet plot. Beneficiaries planted carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, and leafy greens. One sack could produce the equivalent of eight to ten days of staple food.
This program was supported by donations from The Hunger Site and GreaterGood.org. In the last decade, GreaterGood.org and The GreaterGood Network has given more than $1 million to Mercy Corps.