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Home > Policy & Practices > Nutrition gardening can tackle malnutrition, poverty

Nutrition gardening can tackle malnutrition, poverty


In the last few years, malnutrition among the small and marginal farmer families in the Sunderbans, West Bengal, has further deteriorated. This has followed more frequent climate change-induced disasters like floods and cyclones which have destroyed acres of cropland.

 Small and marginal farmers, especially women took up cropping of multiple food crops on the small plots around their homes to ensure them food and nutritional security through the year. Both in West Bengal and in the floodplains of Gorakhpur, East Uttar Pradesh, women farmers used their small front yard and/or backyard to grow different kinds of grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits through intercropping and crop rotation. Around 15-20 varieties of crops, including leafy and other vegetables, legumes, roots and tubers, spices and herbs, are grown in these gardens throughout the year. The different food crops fix soil nutrients. In the Sunderbans, these gardens also conserve sweet water in the fields because they are grown on rows of small mounds or hills. The saline flood waters run off these sloppy mounds, leaving sweet rain water to irrigate the crops and seep into the soil. The success of the model lies in its utility for even landless and marginal women farmers who are able to use the land around their house for these ‘nutrition gardens,’ as they are called in West Bengal. The ‘nutrition’ gardens, say locals, are a more sophisticated form of the traditional kitchen gardens tended by women. They are also innovative as women grow vegetables in pots, discarded tubs and mounds of soil on the ground.



From a Gender Lens

More than 250 women farmers in districts North and South 24 Paraganas in the Sunderbans are currently practicing nutrition gardening. In both the Sunderbans and in Gorakhpur, most of the activities are done by women with men sharing part of the work in tending to the nutrition gardens. Women feel empowered because the gardens help them regain food and nutrition security for their families. They usually sell the excess vegetables in local markets and keep the income earned. Yet, women say their day never ends because different vegetables have different growing cycles. So every day some crop or the other needs watering, unlike farm crops which require irrigation only at critical periods in their growth cycle. Again, almost every day they have to apply some herbicide or cut or pluck some vegetable. And of course, women often don’t own the nutrition gardens they labour on so larger decisions are still taken by the men.



Policy Options

The government must ensure food and nutrition security at the household level by giving women ownership of homestead land through incentives such as lower property taxes, priority credit and lower interest rates on loans taken against the homesteads. Agriculture extension work must prioritise nutrition gardens and provide assistance in the form of seeds, manure and other inputs, including provision of simple, low-cost labour-saving devices. Drudgery reduction must be prioritized with interventions like training and loans for group compost making. These interventions would go a long way in encouraging the increasing number of women agricultural labourers to grow food for their families around their homes. 

Several existing schemes can benefit small and marginal women adopt this model. For example, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) guidelines already promote production of the labour-intensive vermin-compost through women’s groups. Under MGNREGA, land development, construction of water harvesting structures and preparation of liquid manure can also be undertaken on homestead land owned by women. In other words, utilizing MNREGA funds for the above purposes must be counted as man-days invested by women farmers. Similarly, the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) has provisions such as the establishment of new gardens and organic farming but the focus is on large areas and industrial horticulture. The scope of NHM must be enlarged to include provision of assistance to nutrition gardens of small/marginal farmers and landless women labourers for home consumption and earning incomes. Significantly, while most of the vegetables and fruits are grown in rural areas, the consumption of these is higher in urban areas, leading to high malnutrition for rural people, especially women.

ATMA provides for farmer-to-farmer training and, together with MGNREGA, training and inputs needs must focus on vegetable gardens. Nutrition gardens, critical to tackle malnourishment in India, must be made part of LAPAs  - the Local Action Plans on Adaptation – as integral to every village development plant. LAPAs can also be operationalised in urban areas as part of city plans where poor women can have nutrition gardens in and around their homes, even in urban slums.

Further Reading

1.    Resource organisations: GEAG (http://www.geagindia.org/) and DRCSC (www.drcsc.org)

2.    Ministry of Rural Development, July 2013, Building Sustainable Livelihoods of the poor through MGNREGA: Users’ Manual, Government of India, New Delhi. Available at: http://nrega.nic.in/netnrega/WriteReaddata/Circulars/MGNREGA_manualjuly.pdf