From Leith to Malawi...
Why is Leith Community Crops in Pots, an organisation from urban Edinburgh, involved in rural Malawi? Good question!
Our roots can be traced to my desire to give my children a healthy outdoor experience in Leith’s crowded urban environment, and to live more sustainably. I was concerned about nature deficit disorder, agro-industry’s environmental impacts, and the appeal of the sweets at supermarket check-outs!
With plant pots and raised beds, I transformed the concrete yard behind the block of flats where we lived. Bees and butterflies appeared. The kids thrived, spending time outdoors and eating the greens they had grown. Friends and acquaintances were inspired, and our charity was born. We established ‘edible classrooms’ in local schools and were appointed by the council to run a neglected piece of waste ground which we transformed into our multi-purpose ‘Leith Community Croft’.
Our vision was of a world in which nurturing people would be seen as inseparable from caring for the biosphere, and our mission was to foster responsible global citizenship. Inspired by the Schumacher College, we were thinking of establishing a college to help us do more along these lines (two years later our ‘Croft Carbon College’ is thriving!) when we were approached by another charity, aware of our schools work and wanting us to partner in a 21-school project in Malawi.
Like much of rural sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi’s Rumphi district is affected by poverty, erratic rainfall (climate change-related), and environmental degradation (especially deforestation). Schools have inadequate facilities (e.g. with regard to sanitation), and pupils walk miles to their classes, many on empty stomachs. The ‘Living Trees of Livingstonia’ project, supported by the Climate Justice Fund, aimed to improve things.
Working with parents and teachers, the project’s partners have grown vegetables and cereals, installed water tanks and repaired wells, provided fuel-efficient stoves and set up nurseries for trees (reforestation has environmental benefits and also provides food, timber, fuel and income). Hands-on training is given in many areas. Though income generation is part of the project, LCCiP has championed food sovereignty (e.g. emphasising the importance of food for local consumption before selling cash crops) and environmental practices (e.g. training on agriculture, ecology and encouraging the use of nitrogen-fixing plants).
With regard to lessons for us, with a project of such scale it was probably unrealistic to expect all of the schools to embody our vision for a paradise, within the funding/time limits. (We are working now to focus on establishing several exemplars for other schools in the area to follow.) On the other hand, because resources are spread, so are the benefits, reaching thousands, and we are confident that the trees and the solid infrastructure will have a considerable legacy.
We are seeking to attract further funding. We’d love to link schoolchildren in Rumphi with their peers in Leith, and would be keen to empower citizens in Rumphi to uncover their rich farming agricultural heritage. In this age of school climate strikes, helping youngsters put faces on fellow global citizens in distant lands seems an appropriate thing to do!