Key-Hole Gardens

Water is life.

Water is also heavy. Sometimes, it can be destructive.

Managing water in Malealea is a critical and constant balancing act.

For the vast majority of Malealealeans, cultivating crops entails a long walk up and down our hilly terrain to a water source, and a longer, more grueling walk hauling the water back to the plots. Vegetables are thirsty, and so is Malealea’s merciless sun. It requires an incredible amount of water just to keep the ground soft, but still people could find their crops dried out. For elderly people, just growing enough to eat can be an impossible feat, let alone growing enough to earn any income.

Key-Hole Garden structure, photo by Kelly Benning
Key-Hole Garden Structure

A Key-Hole Garden is a circular plot engineered specifically to use little water in the most efficient way possible, while sun netting or mulch protects the soil from excessive evaporation. The plots are built out of the ground, surrounded by a loose stone wall. In the center of the plot is a receptacle with holes. This receptacle is where the water goes, and then trickles out, reaching every root through osmosis.

key-hole garden water receptacle, photo by Kelly Benning
Water Receptacle in a Successful Key-Hole Garden

MDT field workers Tsotang Monyane and Matsepo Lebitsa have trained 71 people in the community how to build and maintain these gardens. They hold monthly workshops at the Community Center or Teaching Farm for a group of about 40 regular Key-Hole Farmers. These farmers are generally elderly women who have benefited greatly from greater yields because they need expend so much less energy fetching bucket after bucket of heavy water.

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Tsotang and Matsepo teach the Farmers to alternate tap root (“light-eaters”) and fibrous root (“heavy eaters”) plants within a plot to reduce water and mineral strain on the soil. They have also taught the Farmers a recipe for a natural insecticide they call “Tea Pest.” Tea Pest is an all-natural mixture of bitter and sour herbs that will kill 80% of bugs without causing any harm to the people who also need to eat these plants.

The MDT holds a Key-Hole Farmers competition every year. The Farmers are scored by their proper use of mulch, spacing, structure, as well as how well they have weeded, and how much they have ultimately produced. The rubric scores how much they have paid attention to the lessons from their workshops. This past year alone, there were 32 winners. They each received a new shovel and pitchfork for their efforts and success. The MDT  wants to support community members who are working hard to better themselves.

The MDT also provides these farmers access to significantly subsidized seeds, allowing for greater yields and experimentation with different types of vegetables.

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We empower our Key-Hole Farmers to be self-sufficient by tending to a much more efficient plot of land. Now they can reliably feed themselves, and our future goals are for them to be able to sell extra crops commercially. We are working towards forming them into a cooperative that is recognized by our ministry of agriculture.


How your support can help:

  • We purchase seeds to sell at a much lower price to these farmers to help them work to support themselves. Any donations of funds could help us to bear these costs.


Go back to Community Development, or explore our other projects: Health & Well-BeingEducation, and Orphans & Vulnerable Children

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