As part of the Office of Ecological Sustainability’s ‘local, plant-based eating’ educational series, Julia Gerwe connected with Sunila Erumangalathu, SCN, in Botswana, to learn more about gardening in this African country.

In Botswana, the Setswana word for rain is the same as the country’s currency – “pula.” Rain is viewed as a precious resource in this landlocked country, nestled between Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa and almost completely covered by the Kalahari Desert. How, one might wonder, do the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and their communities in Botswana grow their own food in this country’s semi-arid climate?

Sister Sunila explains that Botswana is “known as a dry land and half desert.” Land cultivation is most successful in the summer and rainy season, roughly October to February. However, the rains during this season can be erratic and unpredictable, while also followed by sunshine that transpires most of the moisture. Therefore, as Sister Sunila explains, it is often difficult to get sufficient water from rainfall, and many people practice water harvesting to store extra water.

Despite these challenges, people in Botswana do cultivate and grow their own foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and beans. Other staple crops in Botswana include maize, sorghum, and millet. Sister Sunila explains that the government encourages people to grow backyard gardens and kitchen gardens, but it is difficult in the semi-arid climate. SCNs in Botswana try to educate people with whom they work, encouraging them to plant fruit trees and vegetables. When the Sisters have surpluses in their own garden, they share with members of the community.

What do the Sisters grow in their own kitchen garden? Many things! Sister Sunila reports that the Sisters have fruit trees such as mango, passionfruit, oranges, pomegranates, guavas, peaches, avocados, papayas, figs, lemons, and tangerines. The Sisters also cultivate many types of beans, as well as vegetables such as kundiri, chilis, ladies finger (okra), brinjals (eggplant), and moringa (butternut squash).

The biggest challenges that the Sisters in Botswana face include termites eating plant roots, limited space and water, and frost in winter. To fertilize their soils and reduce kitchen and garden waste, Sister Nalini is preparing to try wormiculture, a type of composting.

Eating locally grown, plant-based meals is an important way to “care for Earth” and live more sustainably. SCNs in Botswana are adapting to the country’s unique climate to grow their own food and to empower communities in Botswana to do the same.

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