Dryland household gardens in development
by Daniela Soleri and David A. Cleveland 1989
In addition to food, gardens may provide herbs, fuel, medicine, fodder, building materials, shade, social or recreational space, and beautification.
garden location and form are influenced by the availability of water
savanna Africa this often means location in river valleys where retreating floodwaters provide residual soil moisture, along dry streambeds where hand-dug wells can be used to supply water, or below dams, where individual household plots are contiguous. In Egypt and Pakistan for example, gardens are not usually present near houses, because of lack of space and irrigation water, but may be spread out along canals, planted as tiny plots in larger fields, or even interplanted with field crops. In other areas such as northern Mexico or West Africa small gardens may be near houses where they can benefit from recycled water.
industrial agriculture has had a strong influence on the kind of gardens promoted by industrialized nations
The goal is often increasing production or sales, with inadequate attention to the effect on household economics, nutrition, or social well-being. Garden projects often overlook local gardening practices, promoting commercial seed of temperate European vegetables, European-style tools, and manufactured agrochemicals.
Traditional gardens exist in most parts of the Third World, but are seldom studied, in part because of their genetic, agronomic, and sociocultural complexity.
Key features are the use of local knowledge and resources; locally adapted, genetically diverse crops with many varieties; crop rotation; mixed cropping; and the exploitation of different microenvironments, such as pockets of soil that hold water longer. Cultivated areas often resemble natural ecosystems, containing dozens or sometimes more than one hundred domesticated and nondomesticated species. These features minimize pest, disease, and weed problems. When they occur, these problems are managed by system adjustments rather than dangerous, toxic chemicals, as in industrial gardens and agriculture.
Cropping patterns and use of locally produced organic matter improve the fertility and structure of dryland soils. Management strategies, garden layout, and the use of simple physical barriers such as contour bunds and terraces help avoid soil loss due to erosion. Efficient water management is accomplished by concentrating water in a small but highly managed and productive garden area to make the most of this scarce dryland resource.
Traditional gardens may combine planting in rows or in raised or sunken beds, with mixtures of trees, vines, living fences, annual vegetables and herbs, and a variety of animals. In Durango, Mexico, peach, pomegranate, apple, fig and citrus trees, and Indian fig cactus dominate household gardens. Herbaceous annuals - providing food, medicine, and flowers - are intermixed with the perennials. In savanna West Africa during the rainy season we have seen okra, amaranth, and other vegetables being grown by women in small garden plots next to the houses, with vines such as luffa and pumpkin growing over rooftops. Also in the area around the house are trees like neem, dawadawa, Borassus palm, citrus, and baobob which produce fruit and other products. These gardens spread out from the house into the permanently cultivated millet and sorghum fields where sesame, roselle, kenaf, and other crops are grown along pathways, and cowpeas and cucurbits are interplanted with cereals.
Gardens in development that are based on the traditional model have the goal of improving household well-being through the use of local knowledge and resources, without the need for credit for major capital investments.
A study in eastern Nigeria showed that dry weight yields from "compound" gardens were twice as large as those from more extensively cultivated outer fields. However, unlike field crop production, intensive garden, production may not mean lower labor productivity. In traditional mixed gardens, returns to labor may actually increase because of greater biological diversity, continuous harvesting, and a large proportion of perennials.
The above-mentioned mixed compound gardens in eastern Nigeria yielded returns to labor that were four to eight times greater than those in outer fields.
A study of two household gardens in an urban desert environment in Arizona, U.S.A., showed yields between 1.2 and 6.5 kg/m2. These results can be compared with commercial vegetable production in that country which yielded on average 1.7 kg/m2 in 1974. Returns to labor from less than 1 to almost 16 kg/hr are much lower than in large-scale, commercial agriculture, but this comparison is deceptive. The high labor productivity in large, mechanized fields is bought with large amounts of expensive, nonrenewable energy in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, electricity, and fuel. For this reason their production efficiency is debatable at a time when the serious implications of environmental degradation are being recognized.
the dark green leaves of jute (Corchorus olitorius), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), and pumpkin (Curcurbita pepo), widely eaten in Third World drylands, are only 4 percent or more protein by weight when fresh, but are 20 percent to 35 percent protein when dried. While dryland gardens will not be the main source of energy and protein, they may supply these nutrients in convenient forms and at times of the year when major sources are unavailable.
Research on two urban desert gardens in Arizona, U.S.A., (77.4 and 58.3 m2) recorded a year-round harvest that provided the gardeners with significant proportions of the RDAs for ten nutrients, including over 50 percent of the RDA for vitamins A and C for more than half the months of the year, while only two to three hours per week were spent gardening.
Gardens can affect diets directly by providing nutritious foods that are too expensive to purchase.
A garden project in Ilesha State, Nigeria, in the late 1960s emphasized traditional crops and gardens and included a strong nutritional education component directed at local women. This project is said to have reduced child death due to malnutrition among gardening households from 10 percent to 6 percent in three years.
Gardens can also save money by producing items that would otherwise be purchased.
But basing projects on traditional gardening does not mean ignoring Western scientific knowledge. Formal Western science has much to offer dryland gardens, especially for understanding the details of basic principles regarding plants, soils, and water.
Center for People, Food and Environment (CPFE), 344 South Third Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701, U.S.A.