Thrive for Good returns African farmers to traditional methods based on healthy organic food.
Always interested in natural nutrition, Dale Bolton visited Africa in 2005 and discovered how the loss of native farming techniques had condemned generations to extreme poverty. His solution: Thrive for Good, a not-for-profit he established with his wife Linda, with funding derived from their successful natural supplement company Natural Calm.
“I’m a country boy,” says Bolton, who grew up on a small farm in Ontario. He was always inspired by his father, one of five boys who grew up with a single mother on a 50-acre farm. His father remained active all his life and maintained his own small vegetable garden well into his eighties.
In 2008, Thrive’s model of small organic gardens and community projects took off in Africa. Today they are working in eight countries in Africa with indigenous and aboriginal people, and recently added a project in the United States. Thrive has influenced programs in India, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
Thrive’s mission is ambitious: By 2025, the organization aims to empower 1 million people in the developing world to lead healthy and sustainable lives by training them to grow nutritious and income-generating whole foods.
In Africa, as in much of the developing world, modern industrial agricultural techniques pushed out traditional practices—and knowledge—that had been passed down for generations.
Today, diet is often based on processed white grains and corn, he says. People are more susceptible to contagious diseases and diabetes is now very high in Africa due to all the sugar and white flour.
“Hidden hunger keeps people from escaping extreme poverty,” says Bolton. “It causes kids to miss school. It prevents adults from working when they’re chronically ill. And it orphans too many children.”
THE FOUR PILLARS
Thrive’s model allows small farmers to return to traditional practices, but with a scientific twist so that each stage of the farming cycle attains improved efficiency.
The strategy is based on four key themes: organic gardening, nutrition, natural medicine, and income generation. “Our strategies center on rural communities, because we believe the world’s future depends on its ability to transform agriculture,” says Bolton.
Organic gardening: Techniques are used to grow food all year round even in small, barren or dry areas. Native materials are used to help rebuild the soil; organic materials mean less water is required. Close spacing creates more food per area.
Nutrition: Life Gardens incorporate crops that yield maximum nutrition, including healing indigenous crops, greens, beans, herbs, and a “symphony” of colourful vegetables that strengthen the immune system.
Natural medicine: The gardens include medicinal plants used to prevent and treat diseases. Indigenous plants can be used for diarrhea, anti-bacterial treatment, malaria prevention, and HIV/AIDS treatment, all life savers in areas with minimal medical support.
Income generation: Thrive provides training to help communities bring their surplus to market.
The community savings program allows people to pool their cash in a “micro-savings group.” There are 800 projects of twelve families that each pay $50 to buy seeds. “In marginalized areas people have to decide whether to plant the seeds,” says Bolton. “We empower them when they participate in the community savings program. Then they can save seeds for the next crop.”
The key issue is to allow the poor to access a nutrient-dense diet. Thrive’s solution is “Life Gardens.”
Thrive trains and equips communities to create these small-scale gardens, so they can step out of poverty and teach others to do the same. Thrive teaches people to grow healthy, organic, disease-fighting foods and medicinal plants. With knowledge, simple tools, and starter seeds, people who can’t afford to buy healthy food can grow their own.
PLANTS THAT HEAL
Traditional farmers grew medicinal plants that are effective even against scourges like pneumonia, cholera, malaria and even HIV/AIDS. Today, much of this knowledge has been lost.
“The developing world doesn’t have the luxury of a medical system to fall back on,” says Jamie Woller, Thrive’s International Executive Director. “This pandemic exacerbates any weaknesses, such as malnutrition, lack of access to food. Thrive advocates for and provides disease-fighting foods to include in their diet. Our communities thrive. Those who have Life Gardens are more prepared.”
As part of its mandate, Thrive is reintroducing 50 indigenous plants and retraining people how to use them. Artemesia, for example, is a kind of super plant that comes in many varieties. One is a powerful antiparasitic effective against malaria. (Another variety is even being studied for potential use against COVID-19.) Moringa, another plant with many healing properties, thrives in poor conditions. Its deep tap root helps it
to obtain water in dry areas.
The “Fabulous 50” has now been joined by the “Super 8,” plants you can grow in a small kitchen garden.
IMPACT OF THRIVE
Thrive and its partners are creating lasting change by bringing nutrition and health to people around the world.
• 38,506 Life Garden Beds
• 37,337 People Benefiting
• 743 Partner Communities
• 1.4 Million Monthly Meals Produced
• $683,401 Value of Food Produced