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close this bookFood from Dryland Gardens - An Ecological, Nutritional, and Social Approach to Small Scale Household Food Production (CPFE, 1991)
close this folderHow to use this book
close this folder1. Introduction
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1.1 Some definitions
View the document1.2 The purpose of this book
View the document1.3 The organization of this book


On the outskirts of a city in northern Egypt a man raises water from the wide, brown, Nile River with a bucket hanging from the end of a long wooden pole that seesaws oil a support near the river’s edge. He swings the full bucket over the river bank, emptying it into a small canal that carries the water to tomatoes and eggplants growing in a narrow plot. In rural, northern Mexico a woman picks ripe pomegranates from a tree growing by her house. The tree is surrounded by a tangle of squash vines, maize plants, and herbs, and chickens run between the plants to catch and eat insects.

In northern Arizona, USA, Hopi women leave their stone houses and descend a steep path down the side of the mesa to a cluster of over 100 terraced garden plots. They water the plots through a network of small canals fed by a spring. The women talk and laugh as each one harvests chilis in her own plot. Although very different, these are all examples of people gardening in drylands around the world.

Figure 1.1 A Garden in Northern Pakistan

Inside a home compound in northern Pakistan a hand-formed watering basin topped with thorn branches protects a young jujube tree from animals. Children love to eat the sweet jujube fruits. In the irrigated fields nearby a man has planted a patch of squash, eggplants, and chilis along a small irrigation ditch (Figure 1.1). The squash vines sprawl out along the canal and between the other plants, their clipped ends showing where the vine tips have been harvested to add to soups and sauces for the family meals.

In a Mexico City slum a woman has cut a hole in the side of an empty shampoo bottle, filled it with good soil she brought from another area, and planted mint in it. In front of her neighbors’ shack, chili plants are growing in a stack of old tires, and a young fig tree has been planted in a large tin can found at the nearby garbage dump.

In the savanna of northern Ghana a woman empties a clay bowl of water from washing onto a patch of okra growing outside the gate of her mud-walled compound. At the end of the rainy season she will dry the okra and store it for later use. In the dry season her husband will clean out a shallow well in the bed of a seasonally flowing stream, repair the thorn branch fence, and plant tomatoes and sweet potatoes, some of which he will sell in the market along with mangoes from two trees which are also growing there. At the beginning of the rainy season when food supplies are low, their children will gather leaves of weeds growing in the fields and will climb the giant baobab tree near their house to pick its young leaves for soup.

These people are all gardening - in the wet season, in the dry season; in cities and in rural areas; near their houses, in fields, and alongside roads, canals and rivers; in separate plots, and on individual plots in communal gardening areas; on land that they have a right to cultivate because of the family they belong to, on land that they have borrowed or rented, and without permission on land owned by the government or a railroad company. The crops and varieties they grow are chosen primarily from among those that have been handed down from parents and grandparents. They are adapted to the climate and soils, resistant to local insects and diseases, and are easy-to-cook, good-tasting ingredients of the meals that are part of their cultural identity. At the same time, other crops and varieties are new to the gardeners and are being grown as experiments.

Crops harvested from the garden are sometimes sold in local markets, bartered, or given as gifts, but some are always eaten. These garden foods can provide many nutrients but are especially important because of their contributions of vitamins, minerals, and special foods such as those used to wean children.

1.1 Some definitions

We have written this book to encourage gardens to improve nutrition, income, and self-sufficiency in rural and urban communities in the drylands of the Third World.

In the drylands, lack of water limits plant growth for at least several months of the year (Figure 1.2). Drylands include the deserts and savannas as well as the subhumid regions where there is a long dry season, including west, east and southern Africa, southern Europe, north Africa and southwest Asia, south Asia, southwestern North America, northeastern Brazil and western South America, and most of Australia.

In this book Third World does not refer to a geographic region but to a situation where communities are not in control of their own resources, and are often exploited by outside markets, organizations, or governments on which they are dependent. Third World people are relatively poor, unhealthy, and malnourished compared with most people in the wealthier industrial world, and the majority of people in drylands live in the Third World. The Third World includes not only the majority of the population in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but also many communities within the rich industrialized nations of Europe, the USA, Canada, Japan, and Australia. We use the terms “Third World” and “industrial world” instead of “developing” and “developed” because these last two imply a single cultural and socioeconomic path toward a goal the industrialized countries have attained and to which the Third World must aspire.

A household is a group of people who regularly work and eat together. Gardens, like the ones just described, have been a part of household food production systems around the world for hundreds and thousands of years. They continue to be an important part of households’ production and consumption strategies into the 1990s. Gardens can be identified primarily by their function, rather than their form, location, size or the types of crops grown. Whether controlled by the household or by an individual in the household, household gardens are secondary sources of food and income, while field production, animal husbandry, wage labor, professional services, or trading are the major sources of support.

The value of household gardens lies not only in what they can do but in how they can do it. Improving nutritional and economic conditions is the goal of many “development” efforts. However, it is rare to find those goals pursued in ways that support local participation and control and equity, while striving for sustainable use of resources. Garden projects are no exception. Many garden projects are based on the promotion of an industrial garden model, rather than on the indigenous gardens which people in local communities are already growing (Part I). We use the term indigenous to describe locally developed knowledge, practices, and resources including crop varieties and gardens.

1.2 The purpose of this book

FOOD FROM DRYLAND GARDENS was written to encourage gardens that serve local needs, that are based on local knowledge and resources, and that conserve natural resources and the biological diversity of traditional crops. It was written for field workers, extension agents, students, project workers, and program planners. Both a beginner’s guide as well as a reference for those with more experience, this book helps the reader observe and work with local people to ask appropriate questions about the community, the environment, and the potential for gardens to improve nutritional, economic, and social well-being.

Because every location, household, and community is different, the solutions to their gardening problems must be unique. Finding locally appropriate solutions is best accomplished through an appreciation of the adaptedness of indigenous gardens, and of the fact that gardeners manage these gardens according to the same principles on which Western, formalized science is based. While the application of horticultural science may lead to improvements, the foundation from which to begin any garden project is existing local knowledge because it supports equity through self-sufficiency and local participation and control. This is true even where great change has occurred, as in refugee camps, crowded urban areas, or environmentally degraded rural areas. Therefore, although many specific techniques are included, this is not a how-to cookbook. The basic principles of nutrition, agriculture, ecology, and social science are described, along with examples of indigenous gardening, with the goal of encouraging experimentation and adaptation to each situation.

Figure 1.2 The World’s Drylands (After UNESCO 1977)

We emphasize long-term environmental and social sustainability throughout FOOD FROM DRYLAND GARDENS. Environmental sustainability means the management of soil, water, and biological resources so that all future generations can also use them. To be socially sustainable gardens must improve nutrition and income in ways that are cost effective and promote local self-reliance and a just distribution of resources. This means gardens that use local resources available to all households; these resources include indigenous gardening techniques, and indigenous trees and other garden crops.

Promoting social sustainability requires an understanding of relationships within the household, and between the household, the community, the nation, and the rest of the world. It means ensuring participation and equity for minorities, including many indigenous peoples, and for women, children, and the handicapped. To improve the well-being of the poor and hungry of the drylands their needs, desires, resources, and skills must be kept at the center of the project and they must have control over changes affecting them.

When garden projects from the largest to the smallest fail, it often seems obvious in retrospect that a major cause was the lack of understanding by project workers of the human side of the food system. Trying to understand whole systems can be frustrating and time consuming at first and mistakes will be made. This book will increase awareness of gardens as part of ecological and social systems, and garden projects based on this awareness will have a greater chance of success. However, this book alone is not enough: gaining a firsthand understanding of the social, environmental, and economic ways in which the local system works is most important, and should be a prerequisite for all project workers. Like other improvements, gardens promoted in this way may not produce showy and spectacular results at the beginning, but are more likely to respond to real needs, and persist and grow beyond the life of the project.

1.3 The organization of this book

Part I, Gardens as a Development Strategy, summarizes the basic principles of nutrition and economics as they apply to gardens in the Third World, the evidence that household gardens are a viable development strategy, and ways of assessing whether gardens are appropriate in a given situation.

Chapter 2 reviews the special nutritional needs of women and children, and the effects of work, illness, and seasonality on nutrition in drylands. The function, requirements, and dietary sources of specific nutrients are discussed, but the emphasis is on the important effects that the combination of foods in household meals can have on the total nutritional value of the diet, and on the primary goal of assuring adequate energy intakes. Gardens have the potential to improve overall dietary diversity and contribute critical nutrients such as vitamin A, iron, and energy, often when other sources are not available.

Gardens can improve household well-being by providing income and savings. Chapter 3 discusses the need to understand gardeners’ economic decision making, including concepts of production efficiency, economic rationality, and control over resources. Storage and processing techniques and organizing into cooperatives are discussed as ways of reducing the risks involved in marketing garden produce. Women’s roles in production and marketing must be explicitly considered so that they are not excluded from the economic benefits of gardens.

In Chapter 4 the essential role of assessment, monitoring, and evaluation in garden projects is reviewed. Community control of the assessment process, representativeness, understanding existing gardens, and some specific techniques, such as interviewing, are discussed.

Part II, Garden Management, covers the basic principles, indigenous practices, and specific suggestions for managing plants, soils, water, pests, and diseases in dryland gardens. The emphasis is on managing the whole garden as an ecological system, and on the garden as only one of many household activities. This means that the use of resources in specific garden management strategies must be balanced against the potential use of those resources in other garden and household activities. The goal is not maximizing production, but maximizing household and community well-being.

Chapter 5 discusses the basic principles of plant biology in relationship to heat, drought, salinity, and seasonality. Sexual reproduction and growing plants from seeds is the topic of Chapter 6, which includes many specific suggestions for planting seeds under dryland conditions and diagnosing planting problems. Vegetative propagation by cuttings, tubers, bulbs, offsets, suckers, grafting, and layering are discussed in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 covers a wide range of practices for maintaining healthy and productive dryland gardens: nursery bed and container planting, transplanting, plant interactions, weed management, pruning, and trellising.

Chapter 9 on soils emphasizes the importance of reducing wind and water erosion, and of maintaining adequate soil organic matter to ensure fertility and water-holding capacity. The movement of water in soils, and the relationship of soil, water, and garden yield are discussed in Chapter 10 as the basis for specific techniques to improve water management. Chapter 11 describes sources of water for the garden and various indigenous and other techniques for capturing this water through rainwater harvesting, floodwater gardening, and hand-dug wells. Chapter 12 discusses water-lifting and the application of water to the garden through surface irrigation, root zone irrigation, and sprinkler irrigation. It also addresses ways to avoid salinity and waterlogging.

Chapter 13 advocates an ecological approach for dealing with pests and diseases in which total garden management rather than the use of toxic pesticides is the most efficient, self-sufficient, and ecologically sustainable strategy. It includes four tables with accompanying figures for diagnosing and managing garden problems.

Part III, Garden Harvest, covers harvesting and using garden produce, including seed saving for future planting. Chapter 14 discusses the value of local control of folk crop varieties for genetic diversity, sustainability, and self-sufficiency, and methods for seed saving and storage. Indigenous and other techniques for harvesting, cooking, drying, sprouting, malting, fermenting, and storing garden produce to increase its contribution to diets throughout the year are the topic of Chapter 15. Weaning foods are one of the most important dietary contributions gardens can make. Chapter 16 describes how many garden foods can be processed to provide nutrient- and energy-rich weaning foods, often in quantities and at times when other food sources are not sufficient.

Part IV, Resources, contains a glossary (Chapter 17), a list of all garden crop species mentioned in the text with their scientific names and a list of important garden crop families (Chapter 18), an annotated list of resource organizations (Chapter 19), and a list of references cited in the text (Chapter 20), the most useful of which are annotated. An index is also included.