IFRC

Vegetable gardens reduce risk in Uruguay

Published: 7 October 2003 0:00 CET

Paola Chorna in Melo, Uruguay

Soñora is known locally as “the island”, because whenever the Conventos stream that separates this community from the nearby town of Melo overflows or there is a flood, it is completely cut off.

It is a myth to believe that Uruguay is a country spared from disaster. Here the floods are a constant lurking menace, and they are accompanied by other ills.

The water, in which everybody fishes and bathes, is far from safe. There are no clean water and sanitation services for the 600 families who live here, and this year, as a consequence, there have been several cases of malnutrition and more than a hundred cases of hepatitis A.

Soñora, in the north-eastern Uruguayan region of Cerro Largo, is one of the places benefiting from the Federation-supported Camalote Programme, through which the national Red Cross Societies in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay work with vulnerable communities to improve their quality of life, especially through addressing their basic health needs, and to strengthen their ability to prevent and mitigate the effects of disasters.

“Risk reduction must be present not only to face the threat of a huge disaster like a flood, but also other risks that are consequence of the vulnerability of poverty,” said Luís Dachi, Camalote coordinator for the Uruguayan Red Cross.

Camalote is developing two micro-projects in Soñora: community organic gardens and beekeeping. “We are overjoyed because the people of Soñora are responding well, they attend every organic gardening class, and have signed an agreement between the neighbours to create a ‘community tools bank to work the soil’. This is an evident sign of solidarity,” affirmed Elisa Maggi, from the Melo branch of the Uruguayan Red Cross.

These micro-projects may seem small-scale, but, according to María Alejandra Olivito, Camalote Coordinator in the Federation’s regional delegation in Buenos Aires, they have had significant results: “These low-cost community based interventions have had a beneficial impact on the participating communities by meeting the programme’s underlying purpose, that is, of improving the quality of life of vulnerable populations where the programme is being implemented.”

The Red Cross provides the families not only with the classes, but also the seeds to plant. People also receive cooking classes and tips on how to preserving the products.

“This is a way of helping them to have a well-balanced diet, and be self-sufficient. It’s another approach to risk reduction. The result will be well nourished people, with a chance of starting up a micro venture as a way of facing up to the serious unemployment situation,” Olivito says.

“It is important to give the community all these kind of workshops,” Dachi added. “There is a growing number of cases of malnutrition and undernourishment cases in Melo, and the Red Cross strengthens the classes with meetings on domestic violence and preventing diseases like hepatitis, cholera and dengue.”

“Our main goal is to break the charity mentality. We know we have to support the community, but in the end they will be able to cope on their own,” he said.

Mr. Peralta lives in Soñora. He has a very small ramshackle house, but a very tidy and organized organic garden. “This produce is for the personal use of my family. I have four daughters and ten grandchildren, and every week I give vegetables to them to eat. That is my way of helping. I also distribute corn, tomatoes, carrots, beans, potatoes and broccoli among my neighbours,” he explained.

When he has a good harvest, Peralta takes some vegetables to Soñora’s daily soup kitchen to share with those in the community less fortunate than him. “Now I have something but there are some people who still have nothing to eat,” he said.

“I am looking forward to the course on preserving produce. The Red Cross helps a lot and encourages us to accept challenges,” he concluded.

Similar projects are being developed in Paraguay, despite a serious drought affecting that country.

“People maintain their organic gardens with great effort. Women carry buckets on their heads from remote places so as to water their vegetables,” said Rocio Yubero, Camalote Coordinator from the Paraguayan Red Cross.

“With Red Cross help, people are now aware of the importance of having a family organic garden so they can grow their own food,” she says.

Related links:

Activities in Uruguay
Regional strategy for South America
Disaster preparedness
Camalote programme (Spanish)
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