Thanks, Chioma, for your thoughtful feedback! I have consulted with our partners, and I've written a detailed response to your concerns below.
With regards to determining the priorities of our users, we identified the priorities of our users by answering a few key questions and discussion points with the consortium that we have formed between the Association of Djibouti Nature (ADN), CERD and the University of Djibouti. The representatives from ADN, CERD and the University of Djibouti are the backbone of the Djibouti Chapter of the Horn of Africa Regional Network (HoA-REN) as founding members of HoA-REC&N and are leaders of the community. Some live in the Balbala neighborhood and ADN has experience working in the Balbala slums, so they are in a good position to identify needs. Malnutrition due to high food prices and low production has been an ongoing problem that the Djibouti Chapter Network members have been trying to address for a long time. Necessities, including clean water, food and shelter are severely lacking in the Djibouti slums, and these basic needs must be met for the community to develop.
Community gardens are a way to combat high prices from imported food, and we decided on this approach after considering other conditions of the slums.
We identified other initiatives ongoing in the slums and were able to identify microfinance, water sanitation and road building. So, there was still room for our gardening idea was still viable. Secondly, we identified our areas of expertise within our consortium that could be applicable, which included, wastewater, solar energy, agriculture, community outreach, and networking, and, with this, we were comfortable that we had the expertise to do this type of project. Thirdly, we tried to identify where our idea fit into the bigger picture of the slums, and that is how we identified partnering with the ONEAD water sanitation project.
Finally, when we conducted the experience mapping exercise, we realized the importance of building trust with the community. There will be a lot of excitement and high expectations with any project that is brought to the community. It is critical to manage those expectations and follow through with our idea.
With regards to land issues - land will be an issue in the Djiboutian slums. However, the slums are relatively spread out, and most community groups will be able to devote a small plot of land to gardening. Even better, community groups will likely be willing to pool their land, as they are usually organized within family groups of 30 to 50 individuals. So obtaining a 4x4 m plot of land, which can sustain at least one third of a clan’s nutritional needs, is possible. The bigger issue will be the hummocky, rocky terrain, which has prompted our team to start researching more about vertical gardening systems. A vertical garden will allow our gardens to use space more efficiently.
Land ownership in Djibouti is based off the French Land Ownership model, whereas the government owns the land and anyone can buy a land ownership title. Most of the community groups in Balbala do not own the land where they live, and, in that case, it belongs to the state. For the purpose of development projects, the Djiboutian government will almost always give the land for free for the implementing organization. Therefore, obtaining land will be relatively simple, but the larger question will be regarding what will happen to the land after the project finishes. In that case, it would be beneficial to transfer the ownership of the land to the end-users, so they can further develop their gardens. However, given the transient nature of the communities, a cooperative of garden land owners may be appropriate.
Regarding the scale of the project and having an impact on malnutrition - our objective is to combat malnutrition, and, while scale is one of our unknowns, we plan to start with pilot gardens and determine the capacity of our water resources. Home and community gardens have been shown as an effective way to combat malnutrition at a household level. A 4 m x 1 m plot of land can provide an average family with about one-third of their nutritional needs. With food prices being exorbitantly high in Djibouti, this additional food can be a great supplement for what residents are already eating. Additionally, by making the gardens vertical we will quickly multiply the space available, and we will still need to develop strategies on how to maximize land use. Water will more likely be our limiting factor. In general, the communties in the slums are organized in family groups that are made up of 30 to 50 individuals. Within these groups, it could be possible to utilize a large plot of land to make a community garden, while splitting up labor and garden yield.
One of the biggest challenges that we are going to face in Djibouti is finding the space for the gardens. The landscape inside the slums is very hummocky, rocky and dry. It sounds like your units are pretty flexible. I'm wondering if you have had experience in this type of environment. Is it possible to stack the units and make a vertical garden, when space is very tight? We are planning to use treated water from water treatment plants that are next to the slums.