Family Garden


Small scale family gardens are spreading in the Saharawi community in the Hamada Desert, southwest Algeria. Today there are over 1000 small scale gardens spread about in the five Saharawi refugee camps. The projects started in 2002. (Reference from Taleb Brahim interview) The fairly new phenomenon is marking a shift in practice for the Saharawi. It’s redefining certain aspects of life in the camps and is taking part in the process of creating a new narrative for the Saharawi. 

For centuries, the Saharawi have been pastoralist nomads in Western Sahara (Ref). The nomadic lifestyle they were leading comprised a number of traditions and rituals fit to cope with the surrounding desert environment and its way of living. The new phenomenon of family gardens is introducing such changes as self-sufficient food production, dietary change, contact with the plants, and new knowledge and practices of gardening in a structured approach through training and sessions to provide and disseminate the knowledge important to make the gardens succeed.

We look into the discourse and phenomena of family gardens in the Saharawi refugee camps and how it marks a shift in practice that narrows the distance between the Saharawi and plants and growing food, allowing a connection and dialogue between the people and the plants as well with the food. The Saharawi are experiencing relations with plants as they interact with them. The new set of practices and activities where families engage in direct interaction with plants, growing vegetables and herbs is a change in the Sahrawi way of living. 

As we study the family gardens, food cultures and changing life of the Saharawi, one of its central parts seems to be an aim to have a self-sufficient lifestyle. Gardens and agricultural knowledge are changing people’s perception about food production especially for this community where dependency on international aid has been the case since the arrival of the Saharawi to the refugee camps in Algeria in 1975.  

We will use the concept of discourse as an analytical tool as we rethink the gardening and food cultures among the Saharawi. Discourse is a manifold term that can be understood from several perspectives. One is based on Foucault’s discursive theory and the concept of discursive formation. Discourse could be condensed to mean a certain way of speaking or describing the chosen object of knowledge. The archaeological method of Foucault seeks to pinpoint the time and place when certain discourse emerged and how that discourse became meaningful and powerful at certain historical moment. (Claire Moon 48) In our research we will name the discourse as the Saharawi family garden discourse.

The non-discursive practices are important for discursive practices as non-discursive area is part of the power and authority structure that formulates the discursive knowledge. (Bachi and Bonham 182) In The Archaeology of Knowledge Foucault names ‘institutions, political events, economic practices and processes’ (p. Foucault Archeology of Knowledge, 162) to be non-discursive practices. In our research text we will name the saharawi family gardens as a central non-discursive practice for Saharawi. However, we don’t make a hierarchical distinction in between discursive and non discursive in explaining the Saharawi society. Discursive and non discursive are useful as we look the knowledge and practises around the family gardens. The development and emergement of them and the ever changing scene of the desert changing desert gardening practices.

Our research will bring up few aspects about Saharawi family gardens and in relation to them. 1. How to cultivate a garden in Hamada Desert. 2. The types of the gardens in the refugee camps. 3. The food cultures in the camps. 4. The role of the international food aid for the Saharawi. 5. The past life of Saharawi as nomads in Westrn Sahara. Our focus is on the family gardens and the other aspects will help us to place the gardens and the Saharawi family garden discourse into the context of the refugee life.

We look into the practices of Taleb Brahim, a Saharawi agricultural engineer as he leads the process of creating the gardens and educates the families participating in the gardens programs. We analyze the interviews with him and other participants who practice gardening to understand how they approach the subject, what it means to them, what challenges they have been dealing with and how they respond to them. In the interviews, Taleb brings up scientific (reseach) facts about plants and vegetables, their needs and ways to adapt to the environment in the desert through various methods and techniques adopted from Permaculture practices.

Mohamed Sleiman conducted these interviews on various occasions. The interviews and other archival materials are our primary sources on the subject. There is little research material on the phenomenon in the camps. Sleiman Labat has been preserving the oral history of the Sahrawi community. He has been collecting such histories through video and audio materials as part of Motif Art Studio Archive. 

Arabia Helsinki
Plants start to grow