Roma Inclusion through Community Gardening. A Talk in Budapest

What is community gardening and how can it help to fight for Roma inclusion? On 22 June, in Budapest, a panel of experts discussed the topic of community sustained organic  gardening and agriculture and shared inspiring stories.

Melinda Kassai from Butterfly Development (Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County), Emőke Both and Patrisz Kanalas from BAGázs (Budapest) and Márton Gosztony from Nem Adom Fel (Kázsmárk), presented best practice models. Their organisations cooperate within the ERSTE Foundation Roma Partnership. In a second round, more experts from Budapest treated the issue of social entrepreneurship development: Tracey Wheatley from Protect the Future, Orsolya Papp, research associate of the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Adrian Despoisse from Cyclonomia, and János Czafrango, responsible for social banking and strategic management at Erste Bank Hungary.

The ERSTE Foundation Roma Partnership is a network of local NGO’s and social enterprises working with local Roma communities in Central and South Eastern Europe. This highly empowering and supportive platform focuses on collaboration and synergies. It is present in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia connecting thirteen partners in the respective countries. It has four members in Hungary: BAGázs, Nem Adom Fel Kázsmárk, and PButterfly Development Society primarily focus on the complex development of Roma communities through community gardening and farming. The fourth member is the highly successful Romani Design fashion house.

The community projects were presented within the framework of the annual conference of the ERSTE Foundation Roma Partnership. This conference is a platform for learning, exchange and activation to create synergies among the members who thus exchange ideas and experience on a regular basis. For the first time, a public forum was part of the conference to reach out to NGOs in Hungary that are engaged in supporting Roma and non Roma groups for community-sustained agriculture initiatives such as organic gardening for food security and livelihood development. International experts and national stakeholders exchanged relevant and valuable lessons. Addressing the forum, Franz Karl Prüller, chairman of the Board of ERSTE Foundation, said that he was happy because this is what the ERSTE Foundation Roma Partnership is very importantly about: providing models by sharing lessons from success factors as well those that need improvement and clarifying what could be applied by other under varied circumstances.

Very interesting for the audience of the discussion which was moderated by Alina Serban (ERSTE Foundation) and Camilo Antonio (Pro Bono) at the DocuArt documentary film center in Budapest was especially the presentation of the best practice examples.

BAGázs works in the rural settlement of Bag, 40 kilometres away from Budapest. In Bag lives a community of 400 Roma. BAGázs launched a small gardening programme in 2014 with more than 50 Roma and non-Roma families. They could join easily, every family receives the same amount of financial support. The gardening members meet on a regular basis with a professional expert who also helps them along the way. The goal is to transfer knowledge that will make community gardening in the long run possible. Community gardening is seen more as a tool using a holistic development approach in the community that also contains debt reduction, legal electricity usage, and livestock farming. In the end the community members should be ablte to take responsibility, fight the feeling of helplessness that many Roma have and take control over their lives.

Nem Adom Fel Kázsmárk organisation (Don’t give up) is present in a town of 1000 people located in the more disadvantaged region of Borsod County. They first set up a research group consisting of locals who – together with an anthropologist – mapped up and analysed the financial situation and the special traits of the town. Based on the research they developed business models focusing on how to boost the local production and workplace creation. If all goes well, in a few years’ time, many families will have secure income based on livestock breeding and a pickle manufactory. One interesting element of the programme is that by using participatory action research, they elaborated societal changes that will provide opportunities for the poor families in the town.

Eva Ekler-Katalin Réthy-Melinda Kassai_Sun Garden

Butterfly Development launched their highly successful programme called Pro Ratatouille in 2012 in Borsod County. Eva Ekler, Katalin Réthy and Melinda Kassai (photo above) focuse on disadvantaged rural communities where there are no or very scarcely available working opportunities. This initiative proves also to be successful in tackling rural unemployment, poverty and isolation. It has become so successful that the programme is not only present in a couple of settlements (Hejőszalonta, Hejőkeresztúr, Bükkaranyos) but has elevated into a micro-regional programme, the Hejő-Sajó village network.

On the panel all participants agreed that community gardening and farming is a tool that not only bears the benefits of the fruits and vegetables produced, but also empowers individuals and community. The people taking part in community gardening learn about the various phases of gardening and farming, they also learn how to make a budget plan and have to collaborate with other members of the programme. All these elements induce a further development on the level of the individual and the community: they become confident and more assertive. They acquire a certain faith that they have control over their lives.

The experts expressed their critical concerns that state support for disadvantage communities and minorities like the Roma is very limited and in most cases, non-existent, whereas NGOs implementing community gardening are really able to boost the lives in Roma as well as non-Roma communities at a local level. They succeed to eliminate poverty and helplessness as well as strengthen the sense of communion within a community, so that they can start functioning as real communities.

More on the ERSTE Foundation Roma Partnership here.

photos: (c) BAGázs, Butterfly Development