Family Gardens, an Emerging Discourse in the Sahrawi Community

Mohamed Sleiman Labat & Pekka Niskanen (Mohamed Sleiman Labat, Samara Camp, 2021, Digital photography)

Small scale family gardens started to emerge in the Saharawi community in the Hamada Desert, southwest Algeria around 2002. 1 Ever since, they have been increasing. Currently, there are over one thousand small scale gardens spread in the five Saharawi refugee camps. A leading figure in the process is Sahrawi agricultural engineers and farmers who have been researching and developing the garden practices in this special location and context. 2 The phenomenon is marking a shift in perspective in the Sahrawi community. It’s redefining food perception and diet in the refugee camps. It is taking part in the process of creating a new discourse and narrative for the Saharawi. 

For centuries, the Saharawi have been pastoralist nomads in Western Sahara. (Volpato et al. 2015, p. 12; Wilson 2014, p. 15) The nomadic lifestyle they were leading comprised a number of traditions and rituals fit to cope with the surrounding desert environment. Family gardens are emerging in a structured approach through training and workshops to provide and disseminate the knowledge that is important for them to succeed. 3 As we study the family gardens, food cultures and habits of the Saharawi, one of its central parts seems to be an aim to have a self-sufficient way of living. Gardens and agricultural knowledge are starting to change 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. 

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