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close this bookFood and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 07, Number 3, 1985 (UNU, 1985, 87 p.)
close this folderHousehold-level food production
View the documentIntroduction: Household gardens and small-scale food production
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View the documentHousehold gardens and their niche in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
View the documentThe Javanese home garden as an integrated agro-ecosystem
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The Javanese home garden as an integrated agro-ecosystem

Otto Soemarwoto, Idjah Soemarwato, Karyono, E. M. Soekartadiredja, and A. Ramlan, Institute of Ecology, Padjadjaran University, Bandung, Indonesia


In the countryside of Java, the existence of a village is indicated by a clump of dense vegetation amidst rice fields. The houses are almost completely concealed by this vegetation; from the air the villages look like dark-green islands in a sea of light-green or yellow rice fields.

A closer look at the village reveals that the dense vegetation consists of plants in gardens surrounding the houses. This is particularly true of Central Java. In West Java the houses, surrounded by gardens, are often clustered together with hardly any open space in between. The village may also be fenced in by a hedge of bamboo or other plants.


The most widely used Indonesian term for home gardens is pekarangan. Before the Second World War the Dutch term erfcultuur was in common use in Indonesia. After the war, Terra, a well-known authority on pekarangan, used the term "mixed garden" in accordance with the suggestion of Willis, while Pelzer's term was "garden culture" [9] . Penny and Singarimbun [4] used "house-compound land," Ramsay and Wiersum [5] "home-garden," Harwood [2] "homestead area," and Stoler [8] both "mixed garden" and "house garden." We prefer to employ the term "home garden" in order to stress the close relationship between the garden and the home. For the villagers it is both a dwelling-place and a production unit. In fact it is an ecological system involving interactions between human beings, plants, animals, soil, and water.


The structure of the home garden varies from place to place and is influenced by both ecological factors, such as climate and soil, and cultural factors. According to Terra [9] the home garden was particularly well developed in Central Java and parts of East Java, though it was also found in West Java, as we ourselves have verified.

As salient feature of the Javanese home garden is the wide variety of plant species. For example, in the two adjacent sub-districts Cinangka and Padarincang in Banten, West Java, 179 plant species were found in the home gardens, including annuals and perennials of different heights ranging from ground-creepers to trees of about 25 m, as well as several climbers. Not all species were found in every garden.

The plant diversity was actually greater than that indicated by species differences, since many species were represented by several varieties - for example, varieties of banana with the local names of raja, kapok, susu, ambon, mas, and klutuk; yellow and red varieties of papaya; and yellow and green varieties of coconut. The varieties of plant species are now being inventoried.

In addition 62 weed species were found in Cinangka and Padarincang. The term "weed" should be used with extreme care, since the villagers had uses for many weeds. From a preliminary survey we found that of these 62 species, 18 were used for herbal medicine, one for roofing and fodder, four for vegetables, and almost all grass species for fodder. More in-depth studies would probably reveal that even more weed species were used by the villagers. Thus, in these villages a so-called weed may in fact be a spontaneously growing, but useful, plant species.

Not all Javanese home gardens, however, show such great diversity as those we have mentioned in West Java. In villages close to cities and at higher altitudes there is less diversity. For example, in two villages near the capital of Banten, which seem to have similar ecological conditions to those found in Cinangka and Padarincang, only about 80 planted species were found. These villages are all located at an altitude of a few metres above sea level. In Gandsoli and Karoya, also in West Java, at an altitude of about 200 metres, there were 125 planted species.

The diversity apparently lends the home garden biological stability, for even though the villagers do not use pesticides, there are seldom serious pest outbreaks.

Animals are raised by the villagers in home gardens. The poor family may have only a few chickens and the rich one a few water buffaloes or cows, while goats and sheep are owned by people at the intermediate level. Other animals commonly found are horses, ducks, rabbits, and guinea pigs, as well as pet animals such as dogs, cats, and birds.

The animals are not confined and receive only minimal feeding. The chickens run around in the garden eating leftovers from the kitchen and table, in addition to whatever they find in the garden. Buffaloes, cows, goats, and sheep are grazed on the village common land and at night given additional feed, which is cut by boys from hedge-plants growing on the dykes of rice fields, along streams, and elsewhere. Goats roaming in market-places and eating all kinds of vegetable garbage are a customary sight in villages.

In West Java, particularly in the Priangan region, fish ponds often form part of the home garden system. The fish are fed partly on kitchen waste, and the pond is also fertilized by animal and human waste, which is why the horses' stable and the bathroom toilet are built above it. The other animals' pens, however, are not built like this, although they may be located close to the fish pond; instead, their wastes are composted and used as manure in the garden and fields. Presumably for hygienic reasons, the villagers do not use the contaminated water of the fish pond; the water for the bathroom comes through bamboo pipes from higher ground


From the description given above one can see that a village with its home gardens is not merely a dwelling-place but also an important agro-ecosystem. It is an integrated unit in which the solar energy is channelled through the plants to animals and man, and matter is cycled and recycled. This cycling and recycling process, together with the layered plant cover, protects the soil of the home garden from exhaustion, leaching, and soil erosion. For instance, in the heavily eroded areas of South Solo and South Jogjakarta in Central Java, the soils of the home gardens are still in good condition and the villages look like green oases in a desert of eroded hills. For this reason it has been suggested that home gardens be used as a means of preventing soil erosion and rehabilitating eroded areas [7]. It has also been stressed that animals should be considered an integral part of the home garden system (fig. 1).

FIG. 1. The Integrated Home-Garden System in a West Javanese Village, with Cycling and Recycling of Matter. This Process is Fuelled by Solar Energy

In a study in Kutowinangun, Central Java, Ochse and Terra [3] showed that 20 per cent of the total income of the people came from the home garden, but only 8 per cent of the total income and 7 per cent of the total labour were spent there. According to McComb, as cited by Ramsay and Wiersum [5], the income from an average farm of 1.68 ha consisted of 28 per cent from home gardens, 26 per cent from dry fields, and 46 per cent from sawah (wet rice fields). Stoler [8] reported that in a village in South Central Java garden cultivation alone was the largest single source of income for the smallest landholding group, while for the largest it was half the contribution of sawah. Under certain conditions the income per hectare from home gardens may even exceed that from sawah [4, 8, 9].

At the macro-level it is difficult to assign monetary value to home-garden products, because a large part of the common vegetables produced are directly consumed without ever entering the market system; also, in many cases statistical figures do not differentiate between home gardens and dry fields, the so-called tegalan. However, figures for the production of fruit and livestock may be used as a rough indication of the importance of the home garden in the village economy, since they are almost exclusively produced in the home garden, and little is consumed by the people.

From official statistical reports of West Java for the years 1968 to 1973, the average annual value at the farm-level of fruits, fish, eggs, and cow and buffalo leather was estimated to be about US$163 million, while the average annual total value for rice was about US$277 million. Thus, even this partial list of home-garden products, exclusive of those directly consumed, had a value of about 60 per cent of that of rice.

Home gardens also play an important role in the nutrition of the people who cultivate them. Ochse and Terra [3] reported that 44 per cent of the total food calories and 32 per cent of the total proteins produced in their Java sample came from the home gardens When computed on the basis of consumption, 18 per cent of the calories and 14 per cent of the proteins were supplied by the home garden. The diversity of the food from the home garden also makes an important contribution to the quality of the diet by providing essential vitamins and minerals. In this connection an interesting finding was reported by Stoler [8]: poorer households were not consuming less but more leafy vegetables than wealthy households. One reason given for this was that the leafy vegetables - a good source of vitamins and minerals - were cheaper than other vegetables and almost always available. According to Harjadi [1], home gardens with more perennial crops produce more proteins and calories, while those with dense annual plants produce more vitamin A; the average daily intake from home gardens in a village in Lavang, East Java, was 983.4 calories, 22.8 9 proteins, 16.4 9 fats, 185.0 9 carbohydrates, 381.4 mg Ca, 555.0 mg P2O5, 14.4 mg Fe, 8,632 IU vitamin A, 1,181.2 mg vitamin B. and 305 mg vitamin C.

Supplemented by wood from forests, home-garden plants are also an important source of building materials and firewood.

A great economic advantage of the home garden is that villagers can harvest something daily for their own consumption, for sale in the market or for raw materials for their home industry. Because of the climatic conditions of Java, annual plants can be grown all year round in almost every part of the island, even in the drier parts of East Java. In the dry season plants are usually grown near wells, fish ponds or open sewage ditches. Leaves of some perennials, e.g. melinjo (Gnetum gnemon), are always available. Some perennials flower and bear fruit throughout the year; these include coconut, banana, saiak (Salacca edulis) and jackfruit. Others have definite flowering and fruiting seasons, but differ from each other. For example, the flowering season of jambu Semarang (Eugenia javanica) is from April to June, of mangoes from July to August, of durians (Durio zitbethinus) from June to September, of mandarins from September to December, and of duku (Lansium domesticum) from December to January, and the corresponding fruiting season is a few months thereafter [3] . Therefore fruit of some kind is available throughout the year. Likewise, the products of livestock are available throughout the year.

For poor people with little cash, this year-round availability of food, building materials, firewood and sources of income is crucial to economic stability, particularly in the time between rice harvests, the so-called paceklik season.


Although the home garden has many important roles in village life, it has not attracted the attention of agriculturists, economists, and sociologists. As a result, an understanding of its structure and functioning and its role in the village economy is still fragmentary. Reliable quantitative data are lacking, and many people do not appreciate its importance because of ignorance. The home garden is threatened on the one hand by misguided development and on the other by lack of development.

In an effort to modernize the village, for example, the bathroom toilet above the fish pond was considered inappropriate and unaesthetic, and was replaced by indoor toilets. The result was that human waste was not recycled; it was flushed into streams and contributed to the eutrophication of surface waters and the growth of aquatic weeds and algae. Thus, valuable protein from fish was lost or decreased in yield.

In another case the home garden was considered haphazard, and efforts were made to regulate the plantings with the intention of making the garden look nicer and of increasing yields. This alteration resulted in a reduction of the density and diversity and the loss of the layered pattern. Consequently, disease and pests became more prevalent, particularly among plants with a market value which had become the dominant form of planting. Special efforts also had to be made to control weeds, and the risk of soil erosion increased.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the home garden is the encroachment of cities onto the rural areas. The growth of Jakarta, for example, has already destroyed many hectares of home gardens with valuable fruit trees.

Since home gardens are still undeveloped, the potential for increasing their production and economic value is still great. But their development should be carried out with care and with a full appreciation of the ecological principles underlying their existence, including the socio-economic aspects. Many of the plants and animals can still be improved by selection from the local varieties, followed later by a hybridization programme. In this respect the high diversity of the home garden provides a rich genetic resource.

Since the villagers are poor and the unemployment rate is high, there is a need for simple labour-intensive technologies. But even these technologies could displace people and disrupt the social structure of income distribution [6]. The introduction of plants which in theory give high economic returns could be disastrous under certain conditions: if it increased the need for capital investment, such as for the purchase of expensive seedlings, fertilizers, and pesticides, and disrupted the daily income and food supply, people could be driven into the hands of moneylenders. Marketable plants would also have the disadvantage of being sensitive to fluctuation in market demands and prices. Therefore, in the development process it is essential that the introduction of marketable plants in home gardens should not eliminate those plants and animals that are essential to the subsistence of the people. The diversity of the typical home garden must be maintained, because this diversity is important for its stability, for assuring the villagers an adequate food supply, and for reducing the need for energy subsidies. Consequently, the technologies needed to improve the living standards of the people should be geared to an ecosystem of high diversity and not to that of a monoculture. It is also essential to develop an effective credit system in order to prevent the villagers from becoming the victims of moneylenders.

The crucial factor for development is, of course, educating the people to enhance their technical and managerial skills as well as their general knowledge.


The authors wish to thank Professor Dr. Modh. Halim Khan for correcting the English in this article.


1. M. M, Sri Setyati Harjadi, "Potential Contribution of Home-Gardening to Nutrition Intervention Program in Indonesia," Seminar on Food and Nutrition, Jogjakarta, mimeo (1975).

2. R. R. Harwood, personal communication, 1975.

3. J. J. Ochse and G. J. A. Terra, "Het economisch aspect van her 'Koetowinangun-Repport'," Landbouw, 13: 54 (1937).

4. D. H. Penny and M. Singarimbun, Population and Poverty in Rural Java: Some Economic Arithmetic from Sriharjo (Department of Agricultural Economics, New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Ithaca, N.Y., 1973).

5. D. M. Ramsay and K. F. Wiersum, "Problems of Watershed Management and Development in the Upper Solo River Basin," Conference on Ecologic Guidelines for Forest, Land or Water Resources, mimeo (Institute of Ecology, Bandung, 1974).

6. R. Sinaga and W. T. Collier, "Social and Regional Implications of Agricultural Development Policy," South-East Asian Agricultural Economic Association's meeting at Balikpapan, mimeo (1975).

7. O. Soemarwoto, "The Home-Garden System: An Ecological Point of View of an Integrated Approach for the Prevention and Rehabilitation of Degraded Soils," Seminar on the Prevention and Rehabilitation of Degraded Soils, MS. (1975) (in Indonesian).

8. A. Stoler, "Garden Use and Household Consumption Patterns in a Javanese Village," mimeo (Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, 1975).

9. G. J. A. Terra, "De betekenis der erfcultuur in het district Garut (Residentie Priangan)," Landbouw, 8: 546 - 550 (1932/33).

10. G. J. A, Terra, "The Distribution of Mixed Gardening in Java," Landbouw, 25: 163 - 223 (1953).