Cover Image
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.