Home gardens as a source of good food
‘Home Garden’ is a complex sustainable land use system that combines
multiple farming components such as crops, livestock and occasionally
fish. It provides environmental services, household needs and income
generation opportunities to the households.
In a research study funded by the Asia Pacific Network (APN) for
Global Change Research which was conducted by the Agriculture Faculty of
University of Peradeniya, the contribution of home gardens to national
economy was thoroughly analyzed. This article is based on review of the
literature on home gardens of Sri Lanka.
Agriculture and Environmental Census Department of Sri Lanka classify
a piece of land as a home garden under two scenarios. First, a piece of
land is classified as a home garden if it contains a dwelling house, has
some form of cultivation, and the total land area is equal to or less
than 20 perches. On the other hand, a piece of land that is larger than
20 perches may be classified as a home garden if it contains a dwelling
house, some form of cultivation and if the produce of the cultivated
land is largely for home consumption.
An estimated 14.32 percent of land in Sri Lanka fall under this
category. They are largely distributed in all administrative districts.
Eastern province (3.5 acres) followed by the North Central (3.1 acres)
and Uva (2.5 acres) provinces have relatively larger home gardens.
Mullaitivu has the largest home gardens in the country ie 4.2 acres in
size. Kurunegala (74,636 gardens) contains the highest number of home
gardens, followed by Anuradhapura (70,210 gardens) and Kegalle (65,255
They receive substantial incentives from the government foreign
donors such as Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Global
Environment Facility (GEF) and UN. Rural development programmes included
in Mahinda Chinthana, development agenda such as Gama Neguma, Gemi
Diriya, Osu Gammana (Herbal farming villages) and Jana Sevana support
village livelihood, infrastructure and agriculture based enterprise
Investments in construction and repair of new and existing wells,
tanks and irrigation canals increase water availability to households.
The government freely distributes planting materials such as ambarella
in an effort to improve home garden-based income generation. Besides
support from the public sector, international donors also provide
essential financial support to improve agriculture-based income
generation through regional NGOs in Sri Lanka.
The essential features of home gardens – sustainability,
environmental services and high species diversity – have been discussed
Natural resource base
Home gardens are essentially sustainable land use systems of which
sustainability refers to its ability to maintain production at a desired
level in the long-term at the presence of environmental constraints and
disturbances and also socio-economic pressure.
The sustainability includes both environmental and socio-economic
aspects. Home gardens have been nurtured by the indigenous knowledge,
preferences and survival mechanism of its dwellers.
They have survived ecological constraints and adversities over a
prolonged period of time. The growing demand for land from other sectors
such as industries, infrastructure and building constructions has not
significantly affected the proportion of home gardens in the country.
According to the Forestry Sector Master Plan forecast in 1995, the total
number of home gardens continues to grow at 1.6 percent annually.
Therefore its sustainability is widely explicit.
Protection of natural resource base via soil conservation, soil
fertility improvement, carbon sequestration, water quality management,
windbreaks are important environmental services provided by home
gardens. Kandyan Forest Gardens which refers to the home gardens found
in Kandy, Kurunegala and Matale districts provide environmental services
equivalent to tropical rain forests. Multistoried structure in these
systems reduces the intensity of rain splash which is the most important
detachment agent of soil erosion.
Moreover, soil organic acid content in mature home gardens is
significantly higher compared to open fields. The important soil
properties to agriculture such as cation exchange capacity, water
holding capacity, pH value, aeration and filtration are largely improved
in agro-forestry systems such as home gardens. Carbon sequestration,
which refers to the removal of gaseous form of carbon from the
atmosphere followed by deposition in an alternative source, requires
However findings of similar studies in other countries suggest a
higher contribution from home gardens to carbon sequestration and
associated mediating of atmospheric temperature around human
An essential feature of home gardens is year around production of
food and other products. Home gardens are predominantly rich with food
trees such as jack, breadfruit types e.g. ratudel, katudel, kalladel,
fruit tyes such as amberella, avocado, banana, carambola, cashew, citrus
types, cocoa, durian, gauva, jackfruit, mango, mangosteen, passion
fruit, papaya, pineapple, pomegranate, rambutan, rose apple, sapodilla
etc. and vegetables such as amaranthus, brinjal, cabbage, okra, pumpkin,
sesbania grandiflora, spinach, water spinach, wing bean etc.
Between 29 percent and 50 percent of the species cultivated in home
gardens are edible in general.
These also include different varieties of spices e.g. Cardamom,
chillies, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, curry leaf, ginger lemon grass,
nutmeg, pepper, rampe, turmeric and root crops e.g. Yams, sweet potato,
taro, yam cassava. Families have direct access to these highly
A mature jackfruit for instance is equivalent to 1 to 1.5 kg of rice.
Green leafy vegetables and fruits are rich in micronutrients – Vitamins
A, C, iron, minerals and fibre – highly required for children of age
below 6, pregnant and lactating mothers.
Recently the livestock component had become less prominent due to
limited space, scarcity of grasslands and religious concerns.
The most popular livestock produce includes chicken, eggs, goat and
In addition to food products, homegardens also provide timber, fodder
medicines, fibre and firewood, which are important for household
remedies and consumption. For instance, a large proportion of households
in rural areas rely 100 percent on firewood for cooking.
According to popular literature, most of the plants in homegardens
have some form of medicinal value, providing households with several
ayurvedic remedies to common illness.
While living in a global economy which is threatened by food and
energy crisis along with rapidly degrading ecosystems it can be
concluded that any incentive given for development homegardens is
nothing but wise investment on future.
The writer wishes to thank Prof Buddhi Marambe, Dr Jeewika Weeraheva,
Dr Gamini Pushpakumara, Dr Pradeepa Silva and Bimali Wijeratne for their
assistance and support.