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Central African Republic: prison garden keeps detainees out of doors

28-08-2007 Feature

In the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), the planting season for food crops is already well underway. An ICRC-supported prison garden programme is helping to feed prisoners, as well as giving them hope and valuable training for the future. Jessica Barry reports.

   

  ©ICRC/J. Björgvinsson    
 
  Detainees at work in the Bossangoa prison garden.    
     

One recent afternoon, detainees at the Bossangoa prison in central C.A.R. could be seen preparing the ground for sweet potatoes on a two hectare plot outside their cells. They had planted another staple food, manioc, a few days earlier in another part of the compound, and before that, ground nuts and maize.

The prison garden came into being as a result of the director’s wish to ensure his charges had enough to eat, and because of the ICRC’s willingness to support his idea.

C.A.R.’s prisons suffer from a chronic shortage of funding for food and other basic necessities. Prisoners receive supplies from their families if they live close by, but many do not.

During 2006 the ICRC carried out a three-month nutritional feeding programme in the Bossangoa jail for around 30 undernourished detainees. Although this helped them gain weight, it was not a long-term solution.

When Bossangoa’s new director, Roger Passi-Ngaka, took up his duties late last year, he suggested growing food in the prison compound. The ICRC agreed to finance the project and to provide tools, fertilizer and seeds. A government agronomist was asked to design the layout, provide technical training and give support to the detainees who would do the work.

The project has been running for two months now, and already the area around the main prison building is a carpet of green ground nut leaves.

The prisoners stand to benefit in many ways. The work gets them out of their dark cells and into the fresh air. It also gives them exercise. When ready to harvest, the crops will supplement their meagre food rations. The sale of surplus produce will help finance the programme, and the technical training is giving the men skills they can use in the future.

For one 34-year-old detainee, the father of five children, who has been in Bossangoa for four months, both the work itself and the training sessions are motivating. “Neither my family nor I have more than a basic knowledge of farming,” he comments. “Once I am free I will be able to use the planting techniques I have learned here to make better use of my fields at home.”

The prison director, Mr Passi-Ngaka , has ambitious plans for the future. “Next year I would like to raise chickens and pigs, as well as expand the area of land under cultivation,” he says. 

For the ICRC, should the programme prove successful and start paying its way, it could serve as a model for similar schemes in prisons across the country, where detainees are facing food shortages similar to those in Bossangoa.