By Sajal Sthapit, Roji Suwal, and Roshan Pudasaini
A home garden, commonly known as ghar bagaincha in Nepali, refers to a traditional land-use system around a homestead that is maintained by household members for the primary function of family food consumption. Home gardens provide 60 percent of total fruit and vegetable consumption in a 5–6 member household in rural Nepal. They are also an important source of essential nutrients. In one study, 69 percent of the 1,100 surveyed households that had adopted home gardens added six different types of nutrients to their diet.
The synergies from integrated management of diverse farming components provide new opportunities. Sita Rokka, a mother of two and a member of the Kalika home garden women’s group in Rupandehi district, is making great use of such synergies. (Photo credit: Sajal Sthapit, Roji Suwal, and Roshan Pudasaini)
Home gardens feature several species of plants integrated with other farming components such as small livestock (including goats, pigs, and rabbits), poultry (including ducks and pigeons), fisheries, and beekeeping. The average home garden in Nepal contains 18 different species, and the average size is 600 square meters. However, even a relatively small home garden of about 312 square meters in Turang VDC of Gulmi district has been known to have 80 different species. Such diversity makes home gardens an important source of food, fodder, fuel, medicines, spices, herbs, flowers, construction materials, and income, providing a safety net for rural families.
Unique household needs and desires, as well as the available micro-environment, determine the combination and priority of farming components in the home garden. For example, karesa bari, or kitchen gardens, prioritize vegetable production, ful bari prioritize ornamental flowers, and bagaincha prioritize fruits.
Deliberate management of the intimate associations among annual and perennial agricultural crops, fisheries, and livestock within homesteads is the hallmark of home gardens. Such synergies provide new opportunities. For example, Sita Rokka, a mother of two and a member of the Kalika home garden women’s group in Rupandehi district, uses locally available medicinal and pungent ingredients such as neem leaves (Azadirachta indica), timur (Zanthoxylum armatum), garlic, and livestock urine to make zhol mol, an organic liquid pesticide that is applied to vegetables after mixing with five parts water. It also doubles as a good fertilizer.
Sita can make zhol mol instead of buying pesticides because of the synergy afforded by the diverse farming components in her home garden and in her community. She says her home garden, which boasts more than 50 varieties of vegetables, has given her confidence, dignity, and independence, in addition to nutrition for her family.
Such synergies make a home garden greater than the sum of its parts. The home garden is an overarching systems approach that incorporates several farming components and, crucially, their interactions. The full benefit of home gardens cannot be realized by promoting individual components in isolation.
The nongovernmental organization LI-BIRD (Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development), with financial support from Swiss Development Cooperation Nepal, has been mainstreaming the home garden approach into Nepal’s national system of development for resource-poor and disadvantaged farming groups for the last seven years. Development workers already recognize the value of kitchen gardens as a source of vegetables. This existing system can be improved by integrating the synergies inherent in the home garden approach.
The project has focused on scaling up the home garden approach through coordination and linkage with different strategic partners. For example, the Nepalese Department of Agriculture has recognized home gardens as a viable approach for the sustainable livelihood enhancement of resource-poor and disadvantaged communities. As a consequence, the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operative has taken a step forward and approved norms for home garden establishment and management and issued a circular to District Agriculture Development Offices (DADOs). Such government initiatives could be capitalized on further and used as an opportunity for developing a synergistic action plan.
Government programs linked to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and international poverty reduction strategies for the poor should be re-analyzed to maximize the potential of home gardens in the context of global food crisis and climate change issues. Nepal’s National Biodiversity Strategy, National Agro-biodiversity Policy, and National Agriculture Policy favor the promotion of local crop diversity with nutritional, economical, social, cultural, and ecological values. Home gardens could be a strategic intervention for sustainable management of neglected and underutilized species that contributes to national agrobiodiversity conservation efforts as well.
For more information about home gardens in Nepal, contact Roshan Pudasaini at LI-BIRD (email@example.com).