Food Forest Initiative is Feeding Hospital Patients

This method is seeing huge success.

Sep 24, 2021
Food Forest Initiative is Feeding Hospital Patients | This method is seeing huge success.

Known as the “land of a thousand hills,” Rwanda has earned a reputation as a tourist’s paradise. Boasting a rich variety of natural beauty, visitors can sightsee in Volcano National Park, take safari tours of the savannahs, and relax by placid lakes. The nation’s development board said in a report that tourism revenue provided a major boost to the nation’s economy, at least before the pandemic. 

But despite the income from tourism, food insecurity remains a serious issue in Rwanda, especially for people who are hospitalized according to Cause Artist. Rwandan hospitals don’t provide free food, and patients who can’t afford to purchase meals during their stay, or who don’t have family or friends nearby to bring them meals, go hungry.

Food insecurity is experienced by a large number of Rwandans. According to the UN’s World Food Program, almost one fifth of the population is classified as food insecure and 35 percent of children under the age of five experience chronic malnutrition.

Fortunately, Humanity Unified, an international NGO, and local Rwandan organization Kuzamura Ubuzima have teamed up, according to Cause Artist, to fight the issue, launching Rwanda’s first-ever food forest. This eco-friendly initiative is now feeding Rwanda’s hospital patients.

Maria Russo, executive director of Humanity Unified, told Cause Artist about the origins of the project. “The idea of the food forest came from working with women farmers in Rwanda for many years who were being exposed to harmful pesticides and fertilizers,” she said.  “I knew there was a better way to farm that was both nourishing for people and the planet. I began studying permaculture and came across the food forest model.”

Food forests, also known as forest gardening, are a world apart from traditional agriculture. Standard farming models require that crops are planted in neat rows, segregated by species. In contrast, the food forest model revolves around planting techniques which mirror the ecosystems found in nature. 

This means that crops are allowed to grow in the places where they naturally thrive - think shade-loving mushrooms underneath heavy canopied trees, or plants that mutually benefit each other interspersed in the same area. Because the food forest follows patterns found in nature, it is low maintenance and self-sustaining, requiring only basic upkeep from farmers.

“It took two years to find an NGO partner in Rwanda that was already farming organically and was open to creating a project using this model,” Russo explained. Eventually, she connected with Kuzamura Ubuzima, a local organization that had been running its own nutrition program since 2015.

Located just behind the University Teaching Hospital of Butare, the project is conveniently located for providing food to patients. On 13 acres of lush farmland, local farmers grow 40 varieties of crops, including fruits, vegetables and starches, which are all organic and chemical-free.

Kuzamura Ubuzima said on its website that the food forest has provided some 16,200 meals since the project launched in early 2020. In addition to its feeding programs, the organization employs 100 percent Rwandan staff on the ground, who learn sustainable farming techniques and earn a steady paycheck while contributing to their community.

The success of Rwanda’s first food forest is a testament to how grassroots change can make a tremendous impact. Because Humanity Unified partnered with the already-established Kuzamura Ubuzima, and launched an initiative that wisely utilizing the existing framework of agricultural and nutritional programs, the project was off to a running start from the beginning.

This project takes a holistic approach to wellness, considering both the environmental impact as well as the effect on the community. By farming land located within walking distance of a hospital, the food forest helps neighbors feed neighbors, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “it takes a village.”

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Fascinated by storytelling since childhood, Lauren is passionate about the written word. She’s a freelance writer who has covered everything from the latest developments in tech to geopolitics. When she’s not writing, Lauren is interested in genealogical research and family folklore.