Bhagya Uppala Wijayawardane: Tackling Food Insecurity through Home Gardening
Ladderworks is a publishing platform for various picture books and online curricula with the aim of empowering over a million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship ecosystem builders who advance the UN SDGs.
Hi friends, it’s Spiffy back on planet earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a fairer place! Today I am in Colombo, Sri Lanka to learn how an organization is working on UN SDG 2: Zero Hunger. Bhagya Uppala Wijayawardane is the founder and managing director of Eshkol Agro Solutions. Let’s see how she fights hunger!
Fancy: Welcome Bhagya! Thank you for taking the time to speak to me. First of all, can you tell me what challenge you are addressing?
Bhagya: It’s wonderful to be here, Spiffy. The big challenge we face is food insecurity.
Fancy: That seems like an enormous task! What made you decide to fight food insecurity?
Bhagya: Well, Spiffy, on my trip I’ve seen and heard stories from families affected by climate change. I’ve seen people suffering from malnutrition, stunted growth in children, and an increase in school dropouts due to hunger and lack of free morning meals. I’ve seen farmers attempt suicide to escape debt traps. I’ve seen rising food costs and nutritional deficiencies. I began to gather information in order to better understand how people can live peacefully without constantly having to rely on government agencies and institutions. At the same time, I started gardening in the back yard of my kitchen. All along, there was a constant premonition that urged me to help others plant their home gardens to combat food insecurity
Fancy: Wow, Bhagya, that’s a lot of transformative experiences colliding all at once. Can you tell me more about how you – and Eshkol Agro Solutions – are working to create a fairer world?
Bhagya: Sure, Spiffy! We work with young women and communities in transitioning to ecovillages and those facing climate change. We help people create home gardens through the use of inexpensive modular greenhouses and other innovative products that use less space and water for plant production, with a special focus on ecological regeneration. We then sell the local produce from farms and strive to be a role model in the community showing how to balance business, social and environmental sustainability. Our goal is to scale this solution by building ethical businesses and fair trading networks. We have also discovered more innovative ways to celebrate heritage work for healing and reconciliation, grow lush gardens for food sovereignty, and work with natural resources to restore ecosystems.
Fancy: It sounds like you’re helping people get back to their roots. Can you tell me about some of the initiatives and milestones that you have achieved and what impact do you expect?
Bhagya: We’re running “Free Seed Giveaways” to encourage people to grow their food and cut their monthly bills. We offer online and offline content that helps raise awareness of emerging industries, green businesses, green collar apprenticeships, and job placement opportunities to create wider interest in the community. We have influenced the lives of over 100 families who have built their own gardens and livelihoods. Some of them even sell their products through us at farmers’ markets. We have created community gardens near housing developments and published an online guide to urban farming in local languages that provides information on a variety of topics, from setting up a home garden to running a backyard chicken coop.
Fancy: Can you tell me about a time when you failed and didn’t give up? What did you learn from failure?
Bhagya: The most recent experience was when we were hit by the ongoing pandemic. As the disease progressed, the situation worsened, increasing restrictions on movement, creating labor shortages for harvesting and making it difficult for farmers to bring their products to market. We have started a door-to-door delivery initiative with an online shopping platform to deliver products to your home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Consumers can shop on the website and have fruit and vegetables delivered to their doorstep. It enables farmers who need stable incomes – and families who need fresh groceries every week – to come together over fresh local food. We are glad that we did not give up and that we turned these challenges into opportunities.
Photo courtesy of Bhagya Uppala Wijayawardane
Fancy: What is something unexpected that you recently learned from someone?
Bhagya: When I worked very closely with a farmer in his field, I learned that growth occurs outside of the comfort zone. I was overwhelmed by his experience and the work he did alone on his farm. Managing an acre of land with fewer than five people working on it was no easy task. He wasn’t wearing the best outfit, he didn’t have a modern house to live in, but I saw how happy and rich his thoughts and lifestyle were as he enjoyed a harvest of organic food straight from his garden. What I learned in that moment is that I grew up in all the miserable times that I was frustrated. Also, we define wealth not just in terms of materialistic things, but in terms of things that are often invisible, such as fresh air, food, and happiness.
Fancy: These are gifts in and of themselves. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience before we unsubscribe?
Bhagya: Yes Spiffy, I would like to invite all young people to be part of an initiative that encourages young people to take action to protect their environment and make change for sustainability. This enables one to account for oneself, one’s experiences, one’s perspectives, and to change the hearts and minds of others
Fancy: I imagine your work and this interview will do just that. Thank you for telling me of the inspiration behind your work and mission, Bhagya, it was an honor.
Bhagya Uppala Wijayawardane received the Queen’s Young Leaders Award in 2018 for her work to improve food security in Sri Lanka. She co-founded ESHKOL Garden Works, now Eshkol Agro Solutions, which helps low-income families grow their own food. Bhagya has lived in traditional villages and deliberate communities in Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. This experience has shaped her work with young women and communities facing climate change and the transition to eco-villages by focusing on creating home gardens as a tool for ecological regeneration. (Nominated by One Young World. First published on Ladderworks website July 28, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Check out Spiffy’s interviews with founders building a fairer world here.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.