FAO :: Newsroom :: FAO in the field :: 2004 :: Caracas embraces ci… :: Gardening for the p…
Gardening for the poor
4 000 vegetable gardens flourish in Caracas
Caracas, Venezuela -- Instant city "farmers" are changing how this tropical metropolis gets its fresh vegetables.

Vegetables formerly brought from distant farms or imported from a neighbouring country are increasingly grown a few steps away from the family kitchen. In under a year, 4 000 microgardens - metre-square shallow trays on wooden legs, filled with aggregate such as pebbles and fed a nutrient solution every day - have been set up by the national government in the city's poor neighbourhoods, or barrios.

A single tray can produce either 330 lettuces, 18 kilos of tomatoes or 16 kilos of cabbage a year in multiple harvests.

The project has also established 21 hectares of compost-based vegetable gardens run by small cooperatives in and around the city - even in the shadow of downtown office towers - employing people and providing fresh produce for eager consumers.

"Before I started to work in the garden cooperative my family never had vegetables. My children didn't like vegetables. Now they ask for more," says Rafael Plaza, 42, who had lost his job in a chemical laboratory, but now earns as much in the cooperative.

How did the project achieve so much so quickly?

In an interview, Leonardo Gil Mora, vice-minister for integrated rural development, listed the "secrets" of the project's success so far:
  • Presidential patronage - the president even announced the $2 million project during his weekly radio address; now he wants to see 100 000 microgardens and 1 000 hectares of compost-based gardens throughout Venezuela.
  • Under the auspices of FAO, experts from other developing countries - Colombia, Cuba and Senegal - provide invaluable technical help.
  • The army takes care of logistics, including transportation for tonnes of materials.
  • Hard work.
South helping south

Anastasio Capote, 60, is one of 45 Cuban technicians who have come to Caracas for two years to reveal the mysteries of a farming system based on a mix of soil, organic material and manure. From the windows of the downtown hotel where all the technicians live, he can see at least one result of his team's efforts: a half-hectare vegetable garden bursting with fresh produce, with pests controlled naturally through insect-repelling plants such as basil and marigolds.

"The main idea of this plot was to have a beautiful garden in central Caracas, so all kinds of people could see it and start planting their own vegetable gardens," he says. "In Cuba, 300 000 people practise this farming system; they eat the vegetables and sell some on the side - all without government subsidy."

One of FAO's roles as a UN agency is to facilitate south-south cooperation. In Venezuela, a technician from Senegal who had launched a microgarden project in Dakar came to Caracas for six weeks to pass on his expertise. Senegal had learned about microgardens in the first place from an expert from Colombia, Venezuela's neighbour, under an earlier FAO project.

Back at FAO headquarters in Rome, a small horticulture unit develops guidelines and standards for urban agriculture. Although FAO does not have the resources to send staff to set up programmes in every developing country that wants to grow food in its cities, it can act as a catalyst.

"FAO has been the leader to bring us together with the Senegalese, Colombians and Cubans," says Mr Gil Mora. "Of course, we could do the project without FAO, but the organization knows where to find the experts around the world."

Gardening against poverty

One of the most visually striking aspects of Caracas, a modern city transformed by the 1970s oil boom, is the presence of poor neighbourhoods on almost all the city's hills. Nationally, the number of undernourished has grown from 2.3 million in 1990-92 to 4.4 million in 1999-2001, according to the 2003 State of Food Insecurity in the World.

"We are promoting small-scale agriculture all over the country in both urban and rural areas," says Mr Gil Mora. "Part of the reason is to reduce poverty through part-time jobs in farming, and partly to improve nutrition and food security."

In Venezuela, 85 percent of the population lives in cities, and in this oil-dominated economy, only 5 percent of the gross national product comes from agriculture. Urban agriculture is one way to tackle both urban poverty and dependence on imported food.

"In the barrios, as in Venezuela in general, people are the most important thing we have," says Mr Gil Mora. "Through urban agriculture we hope to increase the poor's self-confidence, and so increase their participation in society."

Read more…

Caracas embraces city gardening for improved nutrition, jobs

Gardening for the poor

New gardeners tell their stories

Photo gallery


Peter Lowrey
FAO Information Officer
[email protected]
(+39) 06 570 52762

FAO/G. Bizzarri

Anastasio Capote, centre, is one of 45 Cuban technicians who are teaching Venezuelans how to garden.

FAO/G. Bizzarri

A Caracas microgardener with a plate of fresh salad.

e-mail this article
Gardening for the poor
4 000 vegetable gardens flourish in Caracas
A destination email address is needed.
A valid destination email address is needed.