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Unlocking possibilities for dry season agriculture

Implementing Keyhole Gardens to Improve Food Security for Women in Ghana

When the tropical storms subside and the dust begins to gather, farmers in Ghana become concerned about how to sustain their gardens. With water scarce during the dry season, water retention becomes a challenge. MEDA targeted its keyhole garden project towards women because women produce 70% of Ghana’s food crops. As a result, they have a direct connection with expanding crop cultivation and providing their families with sufficient nutritional needs. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project’s goal was to extend the growing season for female farmers.

Keyhole gardens earned their name because of their keyhole-like structure from a bird’s eye view. It is a raised garden that uses 16% less water to irrigate crops than a conventional garden. The garden is circular with access to the beds from depressions in the earth surrounding them. This makes the garden accessible to the most vulnerable populations such as individuals with HIV/AIDS and the elderly. At the center of the garden, a compost bin provides nutrients to the surrounding beds. Layers of straw (trap moisture), ash (potassium), rusted cans(iron), manure (nitrates) and topsoil produce a natural recycling system that is built from materials that are locally available and that are relatively inexpensive.

MEDA tested both ferrocement tanks (tanks meant to hold large quantities of water for storage) and keyhole gardens as two possible storage and irrigations systems to address the challenge of dry season planting. After an evaluation in February 2015, women reported that the ferrocement tanks worked well but were not financially feasible for families in a rural setting. Instead of using expensive ferrocement tanks, MEDA suggested that women buy cheaper, more accessible water barrels to catch rain. Keyhole gardens provide cost-effective progress in the hunt for sustainable agriculture during the dry season. Research on the project has shown increased marital harmony, improved household nutrition, and improved payment of school fees as a result of key hole gardening. Not only are the women who are planting keyhole gardens extending the growing season, they are also extending the possibilities of education, nutrition, and income.

At the start of the project, about 15 households were using keyhole gardens. That number has increased to over 300 families due to the overwhelming success of the project. Women are finding the gardens easy to use and affordable. In addition, gardening locally saves time travelling to and from the market. Recent focus on dry season farming has increased dietary diversity and food security as well as provided improved nutrition and a more stable income for women throughout the year.

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