Course:CONS200/2021/Ecological and socio-economic benefits of Homegardens in India
Cultivating land around human settlements stems back to the transitions of hunter-gatherer into agricultural societies. Homegardens in India signify not only a sustainable development of local food production, but also a long history of indigenous and traditional land management practices that continue to have a variety of applications .
Homegardens in India are characterized as land around a home or settlement designated for the use of crop cultivation. These crops provide important resources for families and communities, from ornamentals, foods, medicines, and spices, to raw materials . From a conservation perspective homegardens provide habitat and refuge for a diversity of both native and exotic species in an agricultural setting, and can also act as links between habitat fragments . Homegardens are widely considered "microenvironments" characterized by high biodiversity and their own sets of biotic and abiotic conditions that impact local wildlife and plant species .
Development and origins
The species compositions, diversities, and conditions of homegardens are shaped by the practices and values of those who own them, including specific cultural knowledge, local economic needs, and surrounding regional ecology .
Cultivating land around homes has been a form of farming practice since the very dawn of agriculture. Since then, homegardens in India have remained especially integral to rural and tribal communities, as well as more recently being incorporated into increasingly populated regions as urban gardens. The development of homegardens over time has largely depended upon the practices and knowledge of local communities that get passed down over the generations.
Surveys conducted in Kerala, India on traditional agroforestry systems used by the local tribal communities found that the majority of homegardens there have developed to contain both cultivated and wild plant species . In the tribal hamlets surveyed, homegardens primarily provided foods followed by ornamental plants, and finally medicinal resources . A range of developmental stages of gardens were observed, from traditional features still being found in 50% of homegardens, to more modern practices being incorporated into around 33% . Features of gardens not only reflected the needs of communities, but also local climatic and ecological conditions. For example, regions with more rainfall in the valleys of Kerala were observed to display more complex, highly layered canopies of garden vegetation, which may help protect such areas from water-driven erosion .
While many rural and tribal communities rely on homegardens for resources access and community provisions, homegardens have remained prevalent in city settings as well. In areas of India experiencing rapid urbanization, the use of homegardens is evolving alongside urban communities. Similarly to tradtitional use, homegarden owners in cities also rely on their gardens for food, fuel, and medicine sources to improve food security, nutritional quality, and accessibility . In some instances, landowners with larger homegardens rent out their land for other city-dwellers to use, much like allotments, to maintain their homegardens and make a profit . Produce cooperatives are also becoming more popular, wherein several city growers can band together under organic growing certifications to sell and trade their produce in a more lucrative market . These methods are allowing homegardens to be maintained and valued as ongoing sustainable food systems despite growing threats from urbanization, dominating industrial agriculture, and lack of protections for homegarden land use.
Regulating laws and policies
Generally in India there is a lack of concretely defined public policies that protect and promote agroforestry practices. Laws have instead promoted more marketable crops like monocultures that support economic growth and development. A lack of concrete policies leave homegardens in India vulnerable to the pressures of a competitive market of industrial agriculture and modern farming practice, which may threaten the diversity, quality, and accessibility of the food plants they provide.
A case study on the effects of land use policy on agriculture in Kerala displays the risks to both traditional, and homegarden practice . In 1963 the Kerala Land Reforms Act was implemented by the government to regulate agriculture. The law impacted land ownership, placing land-caps on the area that one family could own and re-distributing the remaining land amongst farmers who were in need of land (8 ha for a family of 5). However, the law exempted plantations and private monoculture forests growing profitable crops like tea or rubber. This meant that diversified small-scale farms were impacted by land area limits, or faced large monoculture properties that could out-compete them in the market. In order to avoid losing property and livelihoods many farmers switched from traditional, multi-tier agroforestry practices to the monoculture plantations that the law had made more secure . Clearing homegarden systems to create plantations reduces regional biodiversity, destroys habitat for animals and insects. Loss of food crop diversity may also mean farming families wouldn't have access to the nutritional quality of foods they had previously obtained from homegardens.
Laws such as the 1963 Kerala Land Reforms reveal the vulnerability of traditional homegarden use to the pressures of modern economic market pressures. If homegardens are to be maintained and sustainable food systems are to continue providing accessible, nutritious food for communities in India then policies that protect and benefit them must be established.
Ecological and socio-economic benefits
Ecological Benefits of Homegardens
Homegardens provide numerous ecological benefits to ecosystems, including that they promote local ecosystem biodiversity, conserve genetic resources and variation; and can serve as mechanisms to restore damaged ecosystems from problems such as low soil fertility, over-tillage, or urbanization. In rural locations in India where much of the population lives on and relies on the land, many times working in agriculture on monocultures, these issues are especially common and can potentially be combatted on a local-scale with the implementation of homegardens. The more biodiverse a home garden, i.e. the more species able to be housed, the greater the potential for ecological benefits from increased biodiversity: namely, ecosystem resilience. Ecosystem resilience is a key ecological benefit homegardens provide, especially in the age of climate change where ecosystems globally are projected to endure further uncertain stressors, and where many have experienced the stress of urban or agricultural development, including much of India’s land mass.
Homegardens serve as nurseries and anthropogenically influenced “microenvironments”, that can prepare crops and weak or young saplings set to be later planted in a larger environment. Homegardens as a mosaic of species (oftentimes primarily local), provide local seed sources, especially to disturbed areas recovering from agriculture or areas experiencing habitat fragmentation due to urbanization. Local species are able to maintain their ranges in areas fragmented by urbanization, agriculture, or other development by residing in homegardens. For example, through the introduction and cultivation of plants such as legumes, bamboo, (L. jenkinsiana) palm, and other medical herbs, shrubs, and forbs in homegardens in Northeast India, homegardens not only promote local ecosystem diversity by cultivating local species, but they serve as important mechanisms for restoring damaged ecosystems most likely damaged from agricultural pollutants or other disturbances whether it be by over-tillage, erosion, low soil fertility, nutrient depletion, or other problems.
Homegardens serve as a fantastic contributor to biodiversity, especially by conserving local species and individuals from local surrounding populations. They help maintain the local ecosystem and promote local biodiversity. This is important as plant characteristics and life strategies are dependent on their local environments, so it is likely that if local variants of species are grown they will have greater fitness than exotic species brought in from areas environmentally dissimilar to India. Homegardens are both biodiverse in the number of species they contain and their structure too, as they are horizontally and vertically diverse, containing multiple canopies of trees, liana, shrubs, herbs, and other plant forms of various species. These plants, especially the many shrubs and herbs found growing, also have an association with other local species and agricultural crops commonly grown in the area. The relationships and growth of these associate species in homegardens most likely promotes the health of local flora and fauna, even those outside of the homegarden, on its outskirts, or beyond.
For example homegardens in Tamilnadu, India included 485 different species and had the highest amount of species diversity found in herbs (with 253 species). Additionally, homegardens in Tamilnadu sustained species from 101 angiosperm families and 3 gymnosperm families. Gardens can also serve as growth mediums to foster delicate or young saplings, crops, and other similar plants that are planned to be planted sometime later in crop fields when they reach maturity. Therefore homegardens can serve as nurseries: anthropogenically influenced “microenvironments” rearing an assortment of plants and plant forms, directly fostering regional biodiversity as homegardens located throughout communities are biodiverse themselves.
Homegardens can serve as both refuges for preserving local species for the benefit of the individual species themselves, and for the enrichment of ecosystem health as a whole unit. An example of this ecological benefit can be seen in the practices of rural farmers North Lakhimpur, India, where wet-rice cultivation has been practiced historically alongside fish ponds. Species incorporated on, or within the outskirts of homegardens are apart of a much larger "integrated biological system" including crops, local species cultivated in homegardens, fauna, and the ecosystem as a whole in this community. The resulting litter of many local plant species found growing in the homegardens, including Moringa oleifera and Leucaena, feeds the fish located within the pond. This is just one example of how homegardens both benefit the individual species living within them, as well as contributing to and maintaining ecosystem processes for the ecosystem as a whole.
Socio-economic Benefits of Homegardens
Homegardens in India can provide socioeconomic benefits including increasing food security and diet diversification in low income situations .The estimation of individuals with micronutrient deficiencies globally is over two billion people, almost half of which live in India . Micronutrient deficiencies occur when essential vitamins and minerals are below the necessary amount for growth and development or mental and physical functionality . This is due to a variety of agricultural, economic, and social factors such as income or choosing cheaper foods that may be more accessible over micronutrient-rich food . As the population is projected to increase, India continues to face the challenge of ensuring supply of proper food to the people. India must make changes to address micronutrient deficiencies through strategies such as diet diversification of micronutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and pulses (beans, peas, lentils) . Homegardens can provide a more diverse selection of foods rich with nutrients, promoting the healthier growth and development of individuals. As a result, the livelihoods and health of local inhabitants with homegardens can be better sustained .
Homegardens, unlike industrialized agriculture, can be formed on slopes. Villagers in the Eastern Himalayan Region of Mizoram, Northwest India support their livelihoods by practicing homegardens in hilly regions without intense agricultural methods . The gardens can be passed down from one generation to the next as family gardens which sustains productivity through generations . Extra crop yields can be used to support the family financially . In an household lacking major income, or minimal access proper healthcare, plants grown in home gardens can provide medicinal uses .
Different tree species in the homegardens of Mizoram were found to be associated with varying socioeconomic benefits . For example timber trees such as Chukrasia velutina M. (Roem.), Michelia champaca L. and Artocarpus chama Buch– Ham are used for building and construction of houses and furniture . Homegarden farmers noted that there are a few tree species such as Albizia myriophylla Benth. and Cassia nodosa Roxb. that when associated near annual crops, the crops show a better yield . This may be due to nitrogen fixing capabilities . Better crop yield provides good economic benefits through the selling of produce or timber such as Parkia timoriana, a common species found in homegardens . Especially in the hilly region of Mizoram, homegardens in general are sources of many different products required for basic day to day life . Most farmers sell more than 60% of their produce and the rest is used for family consumption . It is estimated that a household can earn about a minimum of 3,000 US dollars or 3,751 Canadian dollars annually . This can be a major contribution to the income of the family. Commonly sold vegetables include, spinach, cucumber, squash, and fruits like orange, mango, papaya, and pineapple . Home gardens are a way to incorporate cultural practices and diversification of species sustainably and economically . The socio-economic benefits of homegardens can impact individuals through increasing food security and sustain livelihoods in the face of the world food crisis and climate change.
Although there are many ecological and socio-economic benefits of homegardens, there are many constraints on homegarden productivity that have yet to be recognized by India's economy and government. These constraints specific to India, include factors such as: 1) lack of inputs such as capital investments or tools 2) shortage of land and insecure land title, 3) pests, diseases, free roaming animals and theft, 4) the lack of knowledge by farmers and supporting organizations, 5) shortage of time or labour, 6) low soil fertility and soil erosion, 7) lack of water, and 8) use of sustainable species.
In considering agricultural constraints, homegardens face sociopolitical issues in which inadequate public policies on land use in India can place consequential constraints similar to several of India's homegarden challenges listed above. Existing agricultural policies, specifically tree farming, are frequently contradicting the preferences and priorities of farmers in India, therefore impacting a plethora of homegardens around the country. An inspection of India's agricultural policies would aid in the improvement of the productivity of homegardens and the overall ecological and sociological conditions of the country. Evidently, substantial changes in land use practices can highly impact homegardens, and have potential to continue their use or leave them vulnerable to the aforementioned pressures. While analyzing homegardens from an economic perspective, their monetary value is often disregarded despite the intensity of economic profit they can produce. Their value increases in smaller homegardens especially, as their products constitute approximately fifty percent of household consumption. As homegardens are not exclusively subsistence oriented, they can provide households with an income stream as well as food crops throughout the year. In recognizing the need for homegarden improvements and their dynamic nature, future developments can be made to enhance the ecological and sociological aspects of homegardens.
Even among directions of homegarden improvement, concerns have been raised about the longevity of homegardens as land-use patterns are constantly changing and evolving. More specifically, the concern of the possibility of homegardens becoming extinct have stemmed from that of recent trends among land cultivation structures along with high market-orientation that are influenced by government policies and demographic pressures; exerting overall pressure on homegardens. A further consequence of commercialization is the possibility of a decline in equitability among communities which would affect the close relations along with the traditional 'rights' of the poor. Additionally, species losses from homegardens are said to be occuring at an unprecedented rate. These specie losses can be linked to fragmentation of land holdings due to population growth. Gradually, changes in homegarden structures that are influenced by industrialized societies will affect not only the ecological structure of India, but also the socioeconomic structure. Therefore, the need for acknowledgment of homegardens as valid land-use through the understanding of its agronomic aspects will aid in further developing ecological and social factors in India.
The primary basis of homegardens includes securing the availability of food along with other livelihood requirements. The connection between social and cultural aspects and ecological soundness are the impelling cause that maintains the sustainability of homegardens in India. However in taking consideration of India’s homegarden productivity decline in recent years, it would be advantageous for their government to review land-use practices to give assistance to homegardens which aid in reaping multiple ecological and sociological benefits. While non-governmental organizations are anticipated to acknowledge the existence of these homegardens, they have the inclination to center their focus on low-input as well as subsistence aspects rather than the dynamic nature of adaptivity and productivity of homegardens. It is evident that the needs and constraints of homegardens differ considerably depending on the function of the garden whether it be for commercialized or privatized use. Overall, the acknowledgement of these homegardens as legitimate forms of land use will positively impact the future development of these unique homegardens and aid in improving the ecological and socio-economic state of India.
In inspecting the future developments of homegardens in India, three main directions appear to be emerging. The first direction includes homegardens as sources of supplementary production of activity through the use of marginal land and labour. Marginal land refers to plots of land that are unsuitable for field crops as they are inconvenient in their structure or location therefore small plots and villages are often preferred as sites to develop homegardens. Additionally, marginal land refers to labour inputs in the homegarden. As labour towards homegardening is usually provided by household members, energy and capital inputs remain low and is an alternative to hired or exchanged labour. The way that the diversity of species within the homegarden are maintained so that an array of household land and labour goals can be accomplished within a flexible manner is key to the success of this direction. The second direction includes homegardens as specialized, commercial activity among areas with good infrastructure as well as sufficient purchasing power. Specialized orchards or other forms of horticulture are strong outlets of commercial activity in which products for both subsistence, and cash are combined as well as arable land to provide the main source of income of households with homegardens. Increasing productivity that relies on well-timed labour can aid in the success of this direction. Although this commercialization of homegardens can be beneficial, it is important to take into account how it could affect groups within the community including those of low socioeconomic status. The third direction includes homegardening as a source of leisure and desirable products for home consumption which is most frequent among urbanized areas.
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