This Write Club 2011 entry is from Katie Allen who regularly blogs for UK charity Salt of the Earth. 

Reading about Bolivian families in the excellent World Vision greenhouse project, inspired me to write about the work of our sister charity, Social Change and Development (SCAD), in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu is in India’s south and roughly the same size as Great Britain. Just under half of the 70m population make up the rural poor where the average wage is just under £250 per annum.

It’s a dry, arid place and people living there are experiencing the effects of climate change with prolonged droughts, erratic monsoons and the resultant food security fears. Food prices run at about 30% inflation throughout the state.

This is why part of SCAD’s work focuses on the management of the land so that people, animals and the environment all benefit in the three districts in which it operates.

I spent six months out there last year and I would see organic kitchen gardens growing in villages everywhere. The scheme was started in 2002 in order to answer the need for accessible nutrition for everybody, especially mothers and babies.

This is how SCAD operates. It is a community-led approach, where help is only offered once a village has identified what problems it wants to solve first. Support is normally given through the network of 2,500 women’s self-help groups and this is how the kitchen gardens have rapidly grown to around 1,500 in total.

Villagers attend courses organised by the women’s groups on vegetable growing and composting as well as watering techniques like harvesting grey water. They are also shown how to secure their gardens with fencing to protect their produce from the local wild pigs.

Every year thousands of packets of seeds, purchased by SCAD, are sold for small amounts of money; those who can’t afford to pay are given some for free.

Two years ago a five-acre demonstration garden was set up at Anbu Illam – SCAD’s school for 75 differently-abled children. Along with training, the garden provides food for the children who are also involved in growing vegetables. Another 104 schools have kitchen gardens so a new generation is now growing up learning about the importance of food production and healthy eating.

Pictured above is a woman from Sivaloor village who poses with her harvest – bottle gourd, ridge gourd and radish – all nutritious and popular staples in the local diet.

The photo here is of Guru Lakshmi who is harvesting some okra in her kitchen garden. If there’s a glut or a good harvest then some of the villagers will sell their produce to make a little extra cash.

The women’s groups also spend time promoting the cultivation and education of other indigenous plants such as the Moringa or Drumstick Tree. Most gardens will have at least one of these species growing somewhere and the leaves, trunk, flowers and fruit are highly nutritious and help to increase haemoglobin levels.

Of course these vegetables are suited to tropical climes so hard for me to grow now I’m living back in London. Have you tried growing anything of these vegetables or a Drumstick Tree in your garden?

If you’d like to look at more photos then please look at our Flickr set.