Research Articles Home gardens are key to better lives for vulnerable tribes in India

The forested hills and rolling fields in the state of Odisha are home to some of India’s most vulnerable tribal groups, but a growing number of studies show that small home gardens — producing millet, pulses, fresh fruits and vegetables — could be key in the fighting against the food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty found there.

By: Andrew Wight

Battle against Hunger

In 2020, 828 million people globally went hungry and almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics. 

Despite India now being a middle-income country, it continues to struggle with food security, malnutrition, and rising levels of anemia among women and children.

In recent years, there have been a growing number of studies about how home gardens — which, as the name suggests, are fruits, vegetables, or grains grown at a household scale — might help fight hunger, but there has been limited field evidence of their effects on food security, dietary quality, and incomes.

In a new paper, “Home gardens, household nutrition and income in rural farm households in Odisha, India” published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics, researchers from the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT looked at about 1,900 households in tribal communities in the state of Odisha, India and produced solid evidence that home gardens can improve food security, dietary quality, and income in these rural farming communities.

Photos taken during data collection in Odisha. Credit: Braj Das

Better food security

Sylvester Ogutu, a researcher for the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and the paper’s lead author, said that having a home garden increased annual home-produced food by nearly 90 percent. 

“Our findings also suggest that home gardens can be a poverty-reducing strategy for resource-poor farmers and vulnerable population groups,”

Ogutu said, adding that the monthly value of home-produced and consumed food per adult rose by over half, increasing the probability of greater food security among adopters of home gardens:

“Having a home garden also increased monthly per adult equivalent incomes by 37% and reduced the prevalence of poverty by 11.7 percentage points.”

A bright future for home gardens

Jonathan Mockshell, an agricultural economist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, study lead, and a coauthor of the paper, said that programs aimed at teaching vulnerable population groups how to start or improve home gardens started in Odisha in 2017 and are ramping up, with three quarters of the home garden interventions completed between 2020 and 2021.

“Home gardens can also complement government programmes, such as the National Nutrition Mission, to improve nutrition and also contribute toward achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to poverty, zero hunger, and good health and wellbeing,”

“Promotion of home gardens in India can help curb widespread malnutrition problems, such as anemia in women, by improving the quality of diets that are typically less diverse, dominated by cereals, and/or characterized by low intakes of fruits and vegetables,” James Garrett, a coauthor, said.

An Indian government programme aims to reach over 27,300 beneficiaries with home garden interventions to help increase their production and consumption of highly nutritious home-produced foods, and ultimately improve their food and nutrition security by improving the quality of their diet.

This latest paper is part of a wider push at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and the One CGIAR Initiative on National Policies and Strategies to link research evidence on the benefits of home gardens to policy making to contribute to transitioning to resilient food systems.

In the 2022 paper “Home gardens of Central Asia: reservoirs of diversity of fruit and nut tree species” published in PLOS ONE, researchers from the Alliance discussed the role Central Asian home gardens play as “living genebanks,” sustaining and protecting a rich diversity of fruit and nut tree species.

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This research  was  financially  supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) as part of  the project “Linking Research to Impact: Increasing the effectiveness of  Agriculture and Food Systems in Improving  Nutrition”, CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH),  and  the  CGIAR  Research  Initiative  on  National  Policies  and  Strategies  (NPS), which is grateful for the support of  CGIAR Trust Fund contributors.