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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 folderPart I - Gardens as a development strategy
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Open this folder and view contents2. Gardens and nutrition in drylands
Open this folder and view contents3. Gardens, economics, and marketing
Open this folder and view contents4. Assessment techniques


A vast part of the world’s population suffers from poverty, malnutrition, and environmental degradation,1 and gardens are often a part of peoples’ struggle to cope with these problems. Gardens contribute a great deal to the nutritional, economic, and social well-being of dryland households, and they have the potential to contribute much more. Why then do so many garden projects fail? In many cases the answer is because they start out by establishing a model garden and trying to convince local people to adopt the model without first understanding existing local gardens, resources, or knowledge.2 Whether intentional or not, this reflects an assumption that the project workers know more than people in the community, and that learning will be a one way process with the project providing the answers. This is an example of the “top-down” approach to development.

The Top-Down Approach to Development

We believe that to be sustainable, development that involves outsiders must be a cooperative venture. Local people guide this process and project workers are resources for them. Community members must take pride in themselves, demand control of the changes affecting them, and work with and learn from project workers as equals. Project workers, especially those from outside, must also learn to work with community members as equals, while recognizing that the local people must guide the project’s direction. Project workers must respect and support local skills and knowledge, and always keep in mind the ultimate goal of improving people’s well-being in a way that is both socially and environmentally sustainable. Gardens that support self-sufficiency by using local resources, improving nutritional status and incomes, and protecting the environment, can make an important contribution to finding solutions.

Development is Cooperation Between Equals

Model gardens are gardens that are developed without regard to the local circumstances where they are to be promoted. They are what someone from outside the community believes gardens should be. Model gardens are often inappropriate in many ways. They may require more time, water, or land than local people can afford, use seeds and techniques that are not locally adapted, or produce foods that people do not like. Promoting model gardens also ignores both local gardening skills and local gardening problems.

There are some distinct approaches to household gardens for improved well-being that reflect different values in the field of development. These approaches can be most usefully distinguished according to whether they are based on models brought in from the outside, or are built on local, indigenous knowledge. Today agriculture, nutrition, health, and rural development projects often promote gardens in recognition of their potential contribution to household well-being, but frequently these projects promote an industrial garden model which is very different from the gardens already existing in the area. Industrial gardens are based on agriculture in industrial countries and include crops, tools, inputs, production techniques, marketing organization and nutrition education which are usually inappropriate for the local situation in the Third World, and are not sustainable.

A much less common development approach is to support indigenous gardens, those that are developed by the gardeners themselves, based on local knowledge and resources, and adapted to local needs.3 Indigenous household gardens are valuable because they adapt to so many different human needs and physical environments in such a great diversity of ways, and persist even after, or sometimes in spite of, the introduction of “modern” agriculture and gardens. In fact, indigenous gardens are not only widespread in the Third World, but are also popular in urban and rural areas of industrialized countries like the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Poland where they have important economic, nutritional, and social functions.4

An approach to gardens in development based on indigenous gardens cannot use models because indigenous gardens are often unique to specific locations. Using an indigenous garden from one area as a model for gardens in another area can be as inappropriate as using any other garden model. New ideas are valuable and needed, but their appropriateness should never be assumed until tested and evaluated by gardeners themselves.

One reason for the lack of attention to indigenous gardens in development projects is that they are not well documented or understood in the horticulture, economic, nutrition, or social science literature that is the source of information for most project planners and field workers. European colonialism in the Third World did much to establish this bias against indigenous food production.5 Colonialism contributed to the belief still held by many today that indigenous food production expertise in the Third World is inferior and not suited to the modern world, and industrial, large-scale, capital- and resource-intensive agriculture is the only way to improve the situation.6

However, while development strategies like the “green revolution,” which are based on an industrial agriculture model, sometimes result in increased production, they have often led to increased inequities in the Third World countries where they have been applied. These strategies have frequently perpetuated dependence on the industrialized nations and the international markets they control.7 Meanwhile, malnutrition and poverty persist as major problems.

Indigenous gardens appear to have suffered from both the bias against indigenous agriculture, as well as from neglect because gardens were not considered to be a significant part of the food system. As a result, most of what has been written about indigenous gardens is brief and descriptive, and does not analyze the production techniques or the effects of gardens on income or nutrition. The assumption often follows that indigenous gardens are not based on scientific principles. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more that is learned about indigenous food production, the more obvious it is that it is based on the same principles as Western science. It is also obvious that both are influenced by the experiences and values of the people who practice them.

For example. Western agricultural science today is very much under the influence of a world economic system that emphasizes maximizing production and profits (section 3.2). The majority of research carried out is on strategies that increase farmer dependence on the market. Relatively little research is done on strategies that increase small farmer and gardener self-reliance or on minimizing destruction of the environment. The strong influence of values on the direction of research has led to a vicious cycle; because alternatives are not documented they are not believed to be valid, and those who might be interested are discouraged from researching and documenting them.8 Those who are practicing these alternatives, such as indigenous gardeners and farmers, are told that their skills and knowledge must be abandoned in favor of a system over which they have no control. However, the need for such alternatives is increasing, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the world’s drylands.

People in drylands - such as migrants to cities and to marginal rural areas, participants in large-scale irrigation schemes, and refugees fleeing across borders to temporary camps - are increasingly faced with new situations. Rising population densities, environmental degradation, water scarcity, and rapid social and cultural change mean new conditions for everyone. Without any outside encouragement, many of these people are growing gardens as part of their survival strategy. But the gardens they are familiar with may not be the most appropriate for their new, difficult conditions. These people do not need to be told how to garden, but they do need assistance as they work to develop gardens appropriate for these new circumstances.

While the problems of poverty and powerlessness facing the poor in drylands can only be eliminated by addressing their social and economic roots in colonialism, global inequity, and dependency, gardens can provide immediate benefits, and most importantly, can provide those benefits in a way that contributes to the solution of the larger problems.


1 Durning 1990.

2 Bittenbender 1985; Brownrigg 1985:100-112; Cleveland 1986; Cleveland and Soleri 1987; Ni1987; Pacey 1978:23-24.

3 Dupriez and De Leener 1987; Sommers 1984; UNICEF 1985.

4 Crouch and Ward 1988; Gladwin and Butler 1984; Kleer and Wos 1988; Omohundro 1985.

5 Bodley 1990:13-14, Richards 1986:138-140.

6 For example, see Todaro 1985:285-310.

7 Latham 1990; for Mexico see DeWalt 1985.

8 Warren, et al. 1989.

Figure 2.1 Good Nutrition is Essential for Good Health


Nutrients are the chemical compounds that living plants and animals need for growth, physical maintenance, work, reproduction, and combating disease and other stresses. Nutrition is the study of the intake of food and the use of food nutrients by living organisms. Good nutrition is essential for good health (Figure 2.1). Malnutrition, the lack of required nutrients, is a major problem in drylands, especially for poor households. Malnourished people are more vulnerable to disease; at the same time, disease often contributes to malnutrition. People suffering from disease and malnutrition are not able to work as productively as healthy, well-nourished people. This increases dependence on outside help and reduces the quality of life (Figure 2.2). This can become a self-perpetuating cycle that affects a household, a community, and even a nation.

In this book we apply the concepts of nutrition to both plants and people. In Part II we discuss the nutritional needs of plants, sources of these nutrients, and the effects of nutrient deficiencies. In this chapter we consider the same issues for human nutrition in drylands. We include this chapter in a book on gardens because malnutrition is such a serious problem in drylands and because gardens can contribute a great deal to solving this problem. Gardens can do this directly by providing nutrients, or indirectly by increasing household income or savings which may be used to improve nutrition (Chapter 3). The nutritional effects of processing and preserving garden produce are discussed in Chapter 15 and the preparation of weaning foods from the garden in Chapter 16.

The relationship between food production and nutrition is very complex and improving human nutrition can be difficult. Human values and the assumptions and policies that are based on them have a tremendous effect on nutrition. Today there is growing recognition that assumptions about “development’’ and “progress” in diets, lifestyle, and agriculture that are modeled on Western, industrialized countries must be carefully reexamined.1 Clearly, malnutrition is not simply a problem of inappropriate or inadequate food. It is also a consequence of policies and assumptions at the local, regional, national, and global levels that affect the production, processing, promotion, and distribution of food. Increasingly, malnutrition is a visible symptom of inequity, powerlessness, and greed. Both over-consumption by the world’s rich minority (Figure 2.3), and rapid population growth among the poor majority (frequently an individual or household response to these same problems), intensify the stress put on the finite natural resources on which we all rely.

2.1 Summary

Children, sick people, and pregnant and breast-feeding women need extra nutrients to avoid becoming malnourished. Those working hard in the home, field, or factory also need extra food. Food consumption and distribution is determined not only by need, but by beliefs and traditional dietary patterns, and by patterns of control over resources in the household, the community, the nation, and the world.

Energy, protein, vitamins A, C, D, folacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, and minerals such as iron, zinc, and calcium are nutrients essential for good health - however, they are often inadequate in dryland diets. Gardens are good sources for many of these nutrients.

Anti-nutrients are substances in food that are poisonous or that reduce nutritional value, and are present in all diets. Traditional processing techniques often help eliminate these.

Figure 2.2 The Cycle of Malnutrition, Disease, and Lower Food Production

2.2 Recommended dietary allowances and the nutrient content of foods

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are nutritionists’ estimates of the amounts of nutrients required each day for the majority of healthy people in a given population to remain in good health.2 These amounts include an increase over the average person’s needs to include healthy people whose requirements are greater than average.

The RDAs and tables listing the nutrient content of foods are often used together to estimate the nutritional adequacy of foods and diets, and to plan projects to increase the nutrient content of deficient diets. However, several points must be kept in mind when using RDAs:

· RDAs should be used for evaluation of populations, not individuals.

· Daily nutrient intakes can be averaged over a week.

· RDAs do not take into consideration unusual stress due to disease, strenuous work, climate, and previous malnutrition.

· There is much disagreement among the “experts” over the amount of some nutrients that is adequate.

Figure 2.3 Overconsumption by the Rich Threatens the Earth and the Future.

In most of the world’s drylands there has been very little work done to establish appropriate RDAs for local populations. The United States’ RDAs3 are often used, but they were calculated for an unusually affluent, inactive, and well-nourished population. RDAs established by the World Health Organization (WHO) may be more appropriate for most dryland areas.4 Using RDAs to estimate nutritional needs provides an overview of the nutritional situation and suggests areas that need further investigation. However, they should never be used to give quick and definitive answers about nutrition problems. In Table 2.1 we provide RDAs for some nutrients covered in this chapter.

Table 2.1 Recommended Daily Dietary Allowances of Major Garden Nutrients a





Vit. A

Vit. Ce











































































Adult man (moderately active: using 2,600-3,400 kcal/day)







Adult woman (moderately active: using 2,000-2,400 kcal/day)



















a Based on Passmore, et al. 1974.
b Strenuous activity will increase requirements for energy.
c Diets with plant foods as the main source of protein require higher intakes of protein.
d RE = retinol equivalent; see section 2.6.1.
e From NRC 1989:117-120.
f From Latham 1979; Cameron and Hofvander 1983.

Tables listing the nutrient content of foods are estimates. As with the RDAs, they should be used with caution since the content of foods listed in these tables is based on samples and is affected by the following factors:

· The particular variety of the crop tested.
· Where and how the crops were grown.
· At what point in maturity the food was harvested.
· The time between harvesting and the time the analyses were conducted.
· Type of processing, if any.
· The combinations of foods analyzed.
· The technique used for the analyses.

Tables based on foods eaten locally are best, but these are not always available. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has published regional tables for Africa, the Near East, Latin America, and East Asia.5 The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes a series of detailed volumes that are often used outside the United States.6 Table 2.2 gives examples of some garden foods rich in the nutrients we will discuss.

Table 2.2 Rich Garden Sources of Some Nutrients a


Garden sources

Example of nutrient/100 gm of edible portion


Sweet tree fruits, dried fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds

Fresh tiger nutb 450 kcal/100 gm


Pulses, seeds, dried DGLVs*, especially for protein complementarity with staple

Dried sunflower seeds 23 gm/100 gm

Vitamin A

DGLVs, dark orange and yellow fruits and vegetables

Cooked amaranth leaves 277 REc/100 gm

Vitamin D

Exposure to sunlight

Depends on altitude, latitude, season, and skin pigmentation

Vitamin C

DGLVs, fruits

Fresh guava 183 mg/100 gm


Fruit, DGLVs, pulses

Avocado 66 mcg/100 gm

Thiamin (B1)

Vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts

Cooked cowpea leaves 0.3 mg/100 gm

Riboflavin (B2)


Cooked amaranth leaves 0.1 mg/100 gm


Fruit, nuts, seeds

Banana 0.5 mg/100 gm


Dates, figs, nuts, seeds

Dates 1.2 mg/100 gm


Seeds, DGLVs

Squash seeds 7.5 mg/100 gm


DGLVs, dried fruits, pulses, sesame seeds

Dried cassava leavesd 313 mg/100 gm

a Based on USDA 1982, 1984a, and 1984b, unless otherwise noted.
b Irvine 1969.
c RE = retinol equivalents; see section 2.6.1.
d Leung, et al. 1968.
* DGLVs = dark green leafy vegetables.


Table 2.3 summarizes the diet and health indicators of nutritional deficiencies in drylands. We will discuss them further in the sections on individual nutrients. In this section we cover the special needs of children, women, those doing heavy work, and sick people.

2.3.1 Children’s Special Needs

Because of the nutritional demands of growth and development, especially in younger children, adequate nutrition is essential to produce healthy and productive adults (Figure 2.4). For example, girls 1 to 3 years old need twice as much vitamin A and C per kg of body weight as adult women who are not pregnant or lactating. Children with protein-energy malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency are at great risk of becoming blind if they get measles, a common disease in much of the Third World (section 2.6.1). The daily requirement for energy in infants under 3 months is 120 kcal/kg of body weight, but drops steadily to 40-45 kcal/kg by age 207 The weaning period beginning at 6 months is critical; breast milk no longer provides enough nutrients, and nutritious weaning foods are often lacking (Chapter 16).

Table 2.3 Some Indicators of Nutritional Deficiencies in Drylands



Dietary indicators

Health indicators


Energy for work, to maintain body, to fight sickness

Not enough to eat; lack of concentrated energy sources, especially for children

Children underweight for age; marasmus; adults unable to work long or hard


Growth and repair of body

Not enough to eat; lack of high protein foods like nuts, seeds, legumes

Children short for age, hair color lighter than usual; kwashiorkor

Vitamin A

Vision, bone growth, healthy skin, fighting infectious disease

Lack of DGLVs*, orange fruits or vegetables, and fat

Loss of night vision, can lead to blindness, xerophthalmia; increased infectious disease, malnutrition, death

Vitamin C

Iron absorption, development of skin, bones, and teeth

Lack of fresh fruits and vegetables or overcooking them

Scurvy: bleeding, slow wound healing, poor development of bones and teeth; anemia (see iron)

Iron (Fe)

Formation of blood

Lack of nuts, seeds, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables

Anemia: tiredness, breathlessness, pale under eyelids and fingernails

Vitamin D and Calcium (Ca)

Development of bones and teeth especially in children

Lack of exposure to sunshine, diet high in phytic and oxalic acids

Rickets: softening and malformation of bones and teeth

Thiamin (B1)

Function of central nervous system

Diet of milled or polished grains, pulses, some root crops

Beriberi: weakness in legs, weight loss, marasmus in infants

Riboflavin (B2)

Use of energy and protein, tissue growth and repair

Lack of vegetables

Cracked, dry, itching skin, especially on face and genitals, failure to grow in children



Diets based on maize or sorghum

Pellagra: dementia, dermatitis, diarrhea


Production of red blood cells

Lack of DGLVs

Anemia (see iron)

Zinc (Zn)

Growth and repair of tissue

Lack of whole grains, pulses or animal products

Failure to grow, abnormal development of sexual organs, wounds slow to heal

*DGLVs = dark green leafy vegetables.

Child growth is an important sign of nutritional status. If children in the community go regularly to a health clinic they may have clinic cards with their growth plotted against standard growth curves. As with RDAs, most growth standards in use are based on better-nourished populations in the United States or Europe, and are inappropriate for judging individual children’s height or weight in the Third World. They are, however, a valuable tool in judging the growth pattern of a child or group of children. The pattern of growth for well-nourished children from all parts of the world is essentially the same, and a deviation from that pattern is a sign of malnutrition.

Figure 2.5 is a sample child growth chart similar to those used by child health clinics all over the world. The upper line on the chart shows the 50th percentile growth pattern in kilograms for boys based on WHO reference weights.8 That is, in the WHO sample, 50% of boys weigh more and 50% weigh less at those ages. The lower line is the third percentile for girls; 97% of girls weigh more, only 3% weigh less. The space between these two lines is called the “Road to Health” and it includes a wide range of possible weights for healthy children at different ages. But most importantly, the steady upward progress of the road to health outlines a healthy growth pattern. If a child’s growth fluctuates up and down within the road to health or drops below it, she is much more likely to become seriously ill, and her diet needs in-immediate improvement. The pattern in Figure 2.4 is very common in drylands and shows an overall lack of nutrients after weaning begins at approximately 6 months (A), and a seasonal drop in weight each year (B).

Figure 2.4 Children Need Good Nutrition to Grow, Work, and Play

Figure 2.5 A Sample Child Growth Chart (from Werner 1977)

2.3.2 Women’s Special Needs

Dryland diets often lack the extra nutrients needed by women during pregnancy, breast-feeding (lactation), and menstruation. Maternal malnutrition during pregnancy and breast-feeding can be harmful for the woman and may cause permanent physical and mental damage to the baby. Women who are malnourished during pregnancy are more likely to get sick and have low-birth-weight babies weighing less than 2.5 kg.9 These babies often grow slowly, have decreased mental ability, and are more likely to get sick and die than babies with higher birth weights.

In general, the amount of all nutrients in the diet should be increased during pregnancy and lactation because, in addition to meeting her own needs, the woman is contributing to the nutritional requirements of her baby. For example, vitamin A requirements increase 50-60% during breast-feeding,10 and requirements for vitamin C increase 15 % in pregnancy and 50-60% during breast-feeding.11

Women may need as much as 150 kcal/day extra energy during the first 3 months of pregnancy, and 350 kcal/day extra during the last 6 months.12 This is in addition to the 2,200 kcal/day required by a 55-kg woman who is moderately active. If the woman is doing heavy work during pregnancy, as many women in the Third World do (Figure 2.6), then her need for energy will increase ever. more. For example, hoeing requires about 3 kcal/min. more energy than that needed for moderate activity such as light work or walking. If the woman was hoeing for 4 full hours (4 × 60 min = 240 minutes) each day, she would need 720 kcal/day more (240 minutes × 3 kcal/min). Therefore, a woman who is 6 months pregnant and hoeing weeds for 4 hours a day would need about 3,270 kcal/day (2,200 + 720 + 350), or 50% more energy than usual. Breast-feeding also requires added energy, estimated to be at least an additional 550 kcal/day, especially during the first 6 months.13

Another nutrient important during pregnancy and lactation is calcium. In pregnancy extra calcium is needed for growth of the baby’s skeleton. Breast-feeding women lose approximately 245 to 280 mg of calcium each day.14 If these needs are not met in the diet, calcium is obtained from the mother’s bones in a process called demineralization, making her bones weaker and more susceptible to breaking. For this reason calcium intake should more than double, going from 400-500 mg/day for adult women to 1,000-1,200 mg/day during pregnancy and lactation. Because of the loss of blood during menstruation and childbirth, the iron RDA for women in their reproductive years (14-28 mg/day) is three times higher than that for men (5-9 mg/day).

2.3.3 Work

111 farming communities the labor demands of food production take priority over all others. However, many other important activities make demands on labor, for example, collecting water and fuel, child care, animal husbandry, gathering wild foods, craft production, house building, and repair. In urban areas wage labor and marketing may be the priorities.

The greatest demand for labor in many farming communities comes when staple food supplies from the previous harvest are low. This period is called the hungry season, and is common during the early rainy season in semiarid and subhumid drylands where the staple crops are rain-fed. This is the time when crops have to be planted and fields weeded. Without enough to eat people may be unable to do the necessary work, and so yields are low.15 People seen resting when there is work to be done may literally not have the energy to do it.

The time which Mossi men in Burkina Faso spend resting during the dry season may be necessary for them to recuperate from their strenuous agricultural work during the rainy season.16 Mossi women also work hard at farming during the wet season, but they do not have the benefit of a dry season rest period, since they must maintain the household and continue marketing and craft activities during that season.17 Although men expend more energy during the peak labor period, the fact that they may rest while women must continue working means that women may actually be more overworked.18 Although these people do not have dry season gardens, some nearby villages do. Neither women nor men would probably be interested in dry season gardens unless these gardens could eliminate the need for some current work by providing substantially more food or income.

Figure 2.6 In Many Places Pregnant and Lactating Women do Hard Physical Work

2.3.4 Illness

Illness increases the need for energy and other nutrients. For example, diarrhea reduces the absorption of nutrients and fever uses up extra energy. Any disease causing loss of blood such as schistosomiasis or hookworm increases the body’s need for iron. Therefore a sick person often needs special foods, and those recovering from an illness may also need extra food even after the symptoms are over. As already mentioned, it is important to care for these needs because malnutrition increases the effects of the illness.

The occurrence of many diseases in drylands varies according to the season. For example, the incidence of malaria increases dramatically in the rainy season when the number of mosquitoes increases. Gastrointestinal diseases may occur more frequently during the harvest or planting seasons because long work days often mean that food may be prepared early in the morning, long before being eaten later in the day. This delay allows disease-causing microorganisms to contaminate foods, making those who eat them sick.

2.4 Energy

Energy is needed for all of the body’s functions. People who are working hard, who are sick, or who are exposed to cold, need extra energy, as do growing children, and pregnant and lactating women. The prevalence of malnutrition among the poor in the Third World is due not only to hunger and poverty, but also to the fact that in comparison to the wealthy in the industrialized world they do more physical work, are sick more often and more severely, and frequently have inadequate clothing and housing.

In many dryland areas energy requirements vary seasonally with changes in the type and amount of work being done. For example, in central Burkina Faso Mossi farmers use the greatest amount of energy in the rainy season when most farm work is done.19 Men use approximately 2,410 kcal/day and women 2,320 kcal/day in the dry season. However, in the rainy season this increases to 3,460 kcal/day and 2,890 kcal/day, respectively.

Carbohydrates (CBHs) are the sugars and starches burned for energy in the body. Carbohydrates in the form of staple cereals or roots are the major source of energy in diets of the poor in drylands. Pats, from animal or plant products, are a very concentrated source of energy but are usually more expensive than carbohydrates and make up a relatively small proportion of most Third World diets. Protein will be used for energy only if the body does not have adequate amounts of other energy sources.

While dryland gardens will not be the main source of energy, they may supply energy in convenient forms and at times of the year when major sources are unavailable. This is especially important for weaning children, the group in the population most likely to become malnourished. For example, the caloric density of most fresh fruits and vegetables is only about one-sixth or less than that of grain, but this increases several times when they are dried. The energy content of some vegetables grown in household gardens such as tiger nut, and dried sweet potato, yam and cassava, and of many dried fruits, approaches or exceeds that of grains, which is about 350 kcal/100 gm.

2.5 Protein

Proteins are composed of amino acids, organic compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms. The protein in food is broken down in the body into amino acids. The amino acids are then used to make the kind of proteins humans need to build skin, liver, brain, and all of the other tissues and organs, and to replace daily losses in sweat, feces, urine, skin, hair, and nails. Enzymes are made of proteins and play a vital role in chemical reactions like digestion, vision, movement, reproduction, and thinking.

The protein in the human body is made up of 22 different amino acids. If not present in the diet, most of these can be manufactured in the body from other amino acids. However, eight of them cannot, and must be contained in the diet. These are called the essential amino acids (EAAs) (Box 2.1). Infants require a ninth amino acid, histidine, which they receive in breast milk. It is also present in other animal milks and eggs.

In many Third World drylands, cereals (grains) are the staple foods, providing not only most of the calories, but most of the dietary protein as well. Therefore, diets that lack an adequate quantity of the staple food lead to protein-energy malnutrition (PEM, also referred to as PCM, protein-calorie malnutrition), a significant problem in many drylands.20 A severe deficiency of food causes marasmus. People suffering from marasmus are extremely underweight; children with marasmus fail to grow because they are literally starving. Marasmus is common in weaned children, and also occurs in breast-feeding children who are not receiving enough breast milk or supplemental foods.21

Kwashiorkor is a form of PEM caused by a relatively greater lack of dietary protein than calories, and is especially common in weaning-age children.22 The growth rate of these children is slow and they have a swelling called oedema, which begins in the feet and legs, later spreading to the rest of the body. When the depression caused by pressing a finger oil the flesh above the ankle is slow to disappear it is a sign of oedema.

Box 2.1
Net Protein Utilization and Protein Complementarity

Amino acids are not stored in the body, but are used soon after digestion for protein synthesis, that is, they are assembled in different ways to form various types of protein molecules. Amino acids not used for protein synthesis are excreted. Therefore, the most useful dietary protein is that which contains the EAAs in the same proportions as those required by human beings for protein synthesis. The use of protein in the diet is limited by that EAA which is most deficient compared with how much of it is required for protein synthesis. The value of all other EAAs present will be proportionally reduced (Figure 2.7). Net protein utilization (NPU) is the percentage of dietary protein in a food or a meal that can be absorbed and used by the body. For example, sesame seeds contain about 18% protein and have an NPU of 53 %.23 Thus 100 gm of sesame seeds would provide a person with 9.5 gm of usable protein (100 gm seeds × 0.18 =18 gm protein; 18 gm protein × 0.53 = 9.5 gm).

Animals are more closely related to humans evolutionarily than plants are. Therefore animal proteins in eggs, meat, and dairy products have a higher NPU than most plant proteins. However, when plant proteins are eaten in the right combination the resulting NPU can easily equal that of animal protein24 because of protein complementarity. Protein complementarity means that the combination of foods in a meal compensates for shortages of specific EAAs in individual foods, making more protein available to the body. Through protein complementarity, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds from the garden can increase the amount of protein available in the diet. For example, many dryland garden vegetables are high in the amino acid lysine but low in tryptophan, so combining them in meals with most cereals, which are low in lysine but high in tryptophan, increases the protein contribution of the garden.

Although the symptoms are not as obvious, mild or moderate PEM is far more common than the severe conditions of kwashiorkor or marasmus. For example, it is estimated that in the African Sahel 30% of the children between 1 and 2 years old suffer from moderate PEM.25 The main signs of this condition are slow or no growth, loss of muscle tissue, a protruding belly, thin arms and legs, and sometimes a lighter than normal hair color. Children suffering from PEM are listless, weak, and unhappy. Protein-energy malnutrition also makes children more vulnerable to disease which, in turn, worsens their nutritional condition even further.

As with energy, gardens are not the main source of protein. However, they may supply protein in convenient forms and at times of the year when major sources are unavailable. Again this is especially important for weaning children. Dried seeds and pulses are often recognized as good protein sources, but other garden produce can also provide concentrated protein, especially when dried. For example, the dark green leaves of jute, cowpea, and pumpkin, widely eaten in Third World drylands, are only 4% or more protein by weight when fresh, but are 20% to 35% protein when dried.26

While many nutrition programs have emphasized increased consumption of protein in the form of animal products, this strategy is not necessary for improved nutrition and can contribute to other health problems, as well as having serious negative social and environmental consequences.27 Increased consumption of animal products is often associated with increased cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. The social and environmental costs of increased consumption of animal products occur because the animals are fed large quantities of grains and pulses. For example, it has been estimated that 16 lbs of grain and soybeans are required to produce 1 lb of beef.28 As this food is diverted from feeding people directly to producing meat and milk, less food is available to people, and it is produced at a higher cost. In many areas increased consumption of animal products is accompanied by an accentuated division between the small, affluent minority who are consuming those products and the vast majority whose diets are worsening, as in Mexico and Africa.29 Not only are grains diverted from feeding people to feeding animals, but valuable land, soil, and water are invested in feed production as well. When grain production is not enough to meet the demands of the rich for animal products, grain is imported, using scarce foreign exchange.

Figure 2.7 Limiting Ammo Acids (from Lapp982:175)


Many fruits and vegetables from the garden are rich in vitamins, especially A and C. Vitamins are organic substances that occur naturally in plant and animal tissue. They are essential for the functioning of the body and must be contained in the food we eat because the human body cannot make them. An exception is vitamin D which is produced in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) require fat in the diet to be absorbed by the body, and they can be stored in the fatty tissues of the body. Water-soluble vitamins (including vitamin C, folacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin) are those that dissolve in water, so that any excess is excreted; foods containing them must be eaten more frequently. Here we discuss seven of the most important vitamins for dryland diets: A, C, D, folacin, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. See Table 2.2 for examples of vitamin content of foods grown in dryland gardens.

2.6.1 Vitamin A

FUNCTION One of the most important functions of vitamin A, also called retinol, is in vision. A deficiency of this vitamin leads to a deterioration of the eyes, a disease known as xerophthalmia. Early signs include loss of vision in dim light (night blindness), while continued deficiency leads to blindness, especially in young children. Vitamin A is also necessary for bone growth and healthy skin, and vitamin A deficiency is associated with increased risk of sickness and death. Evidence from recent research strongly suggests that vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of death due to infectious diseases (such as measles, pneumonia, tuberculosis, dysentery, and gastrointestinal infections).30 In turn, infectious disease and PEM may increase the risk of vitamin A deficiency.31 Vitamin A appears to be important for maintaining the tissues that protect the respiratory, stomach, and gastrointestinal systems, and the genital organs. A deficiency results in a breakdown of this protective barrier, leaving the body vulnerable to infection. This vitamin may also play a role in enhancing the body’s immune system.32 For these reasons vitamin A deficiency is seen as a serious threat to child health and survival and is becoming an important focus for efforts to improve children’s nutrition worldwide.

PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS Vitamin A deficiency is one of the major nutritional deficiencies in the world. It often fluctuates seasonally, increasing when green vegetables and fresh fruits are not available. In India, for example, it is estimated that vitamin A deficiency contributes to 52,000 children becoming blind and 110,000 to 132,000 partially blind every year.33 Vitamin A deficiency is probably high in most drylands, though there is not much detailed information for Africa or the Middle East. Some food surveys in the African Sahel suggest that in the dry season only 50% of vitamin A needs are met by the diet.34 Deficiency can result not only from a lack of vitamin A in the diet, but from a low-fat diet, since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. Deficiency may also occur due to overall poor nutritional status, especially PEM, and due to infectious diseases, all of which reduce the body’s ability to absorb vitamin A.

REQUIREMENTS A daily intake of 750 mcg of retinol is suggested for adults and at least 300 mcg for young children. This means that just 30-100 gm (1-3 oz) of vitamin A-rich food can meet the RDAs for infants and children. Breast-feeding women who provide their infants with retinol in breast milk need approximately 1,200 mcg daily. Several months’ supply of vitamin A can be stored in the liver, so it is a good idea for people to eat lots of vitamin A-rich food when available, to make up for a shortage later on in the year. In savanna West Africa, for example, mangoes are rich in vitamin A and are often abundant at the end of the dry season. Children love mangoes and will devour lots of them if they get the chance.

SOURCES Fruits and vegetables contain provitamin A (carotenes, the precursors of the vitamin) primarily in the form of beta-carotene, which is transformed in the body into the active form of vitamin A, retinol (also called preformed vitamin A). Carotenes are substances with yellow/orange pigment which gives carrots, mangoes, sweet potatoes, loquats, and papayas their typical color. Dark green leafy vegetables, especially young leaves, are also rich in carotene, but the color is masked by the green of the chlorophyll. In general the darker orange or green the vegetable, the higher its carotene content. For example, there is much more carotene in dark green leaf amaranth than in light green head cabbage or lettuce. Nonindigenous fruits and vegetables with high prestige value often have lower vitamin A content than indigenous fruits and vegetables, leading to poor vitamin A nutrition as the former replace the latter. This is the case in northeast Brazil where apples, pears, oranges, and lemons are replacing local palm fruits, mangoes, passion fruit, and papayas in the local diet, contributing to vitamin A-deficiency in the region.35 Some animal products such as eggs, butter, milk fat, and liver contain retinol, but these foods are often not available or are too expensive, except, perhaps, for people who herd their own animals.

Red palm oil is sometimes advocated as a source of vitamin A in drylands. Oil palms grow in the humid tropics, however, and buying imported oil is likely to be too expensive for poor dryland households. Sometimes vitamin A is added artificially to foods, such as biscuits, sugar, or monosodium glutamate (MSG, a traditional seasoning in Asia). However, their purchase may not only limit more important uses of household income, but these items may themselves be associated with increased health problems. Fortunately there are many rich sources of vitamin A that can be easily grown in household gardens.

Currently the standard practice is to give the vitamin A content of foods in retinol equivalents. However, some food composition tables still use international units (IU) of beta-carotene. To convert these to the retinol equivalents used in this book, the following equivalencies can be used:36

1 retinol equivalent (RE) equals
= 1 mcg retinol
= 6 mcg beta-carotene
= 12 mcg other provitamin A carotenoids
= 3.33 IU vitamin A activity from retinol
= 10 IU vitamin A activity from beta-carotene.

2.6.2 Vitamin D

FUNCTION This fat-soluble vitamin is important for the regulation of calcium and phosphorus in the body to make strong bones and teeth, especially in infants and children (section 2.7.3). The ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause vitamin D to be formed from a naturally occurring substance in the skin. It is also present in certain foods. Rickets is a disease resulting from vitamin D deficiency and causes softening and malformation of the bones. PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS In most dryland tropical and subtropical countries there is enough sunlight to supply people’s vitamin D requirements. However, there are vitamin D deficiencies in Ethiopia; in the larger, crowded cities of drylands in the Near East and Asia;37 and where cultural or religious values stress covering most of the body, such as among some Moslems and Hindus.38 Rickets may become a problem during and after weaning if the vitamin D present in breast milk is not replaced by exposure to the sun or supplied by another dietary source.

REQUIREMENTS The amount of sunlight needed to provide someone with their vitamin D requirement depends on the altitude (height above sea level) or latitude (how close to the equator) of where they live, the season, the frequency and length of exposure, and how dark their skin is.39 People with darker skin colors must be exposed longer than those with lighter skin colors. The higher the altitude or the closer to the equator, the less exposure required. The elderly can only synthesize half as much vitamin D from sun exposure as a similar younger person can. It is difficult to set a dietary requirement since diet is not the only source of this nutrient. SOURCES Dryland gardens may contribute in two ways to meeting vitamin D requirements. They can provide eggs whose yolks are a good source. They can also provide a place of seclusion where, while doing other work, mothers can expose a portion of both their own and their baby’s skin to sunlight for a brief period every day. Unless fortified, cow’s milk is not a good source of this vitamin.

2.6.3 Vitamin C

FUNCTION Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble vitamin needed for absorption of iron in the diet. This vitamin is also important for the formation and maintenance of the skin, bones, and teeth. PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS Vitamin C deficiency is often associated with the iron deficiency anemia so prevalent in drylands (section 2.7.1). Lack of vitamin C also causes scurvy, characterized by bleeding, slow healing of wounds, and poor development of bones and teeth in children. Severe cases can cause death.

REQUIREMENTS Since vitamin C is constantly being lost from the body, a continual supply is needed in the diet. The following RDAs are for the United States and the requirements of Third World dryland populations may be greater. A daily intake of 60 mg/day for adults and 30 mg/day for children maintains an abundant quantity in the body.40 but requirements for vitamin C increase during the infections and fevers common among children and adults of the drylands. Between infancy and adulthood the requirement increases from 30 to 60 mg/day. Pregnant women transfer vitamin C to their babies so they need about 10 mg/day more than the adult requirement. Breast milk is high in the vitamin and so lactating women need 30-35 mg/day more to compensate for this.

SOURCES Many dryland fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C. Some examples are guavas (one of the richest sources with 326 mg/100 gm), tomatoes, citrus, papayas, chilis, sweet peppers, mangoes, and DGLVs like amaranth or baobab leaves (Figure 2.8).

2.6.4 Folacin

FUNCTION Folacin (also called folate and folic acid) is a water-soluble vitamin whose deficiency is the cause of the second most common type of nutritional anemia after iron deficiency anemia.41

PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS Anemia due to folacin deficiency is especially common in pregnant women.

REQUIREMENTS Daily intakes of 100 mcg for children, 200 for adults, 400 for pregnant women, and 300 for breast-feeding women have been suggested.42 SOURCES Dark green leafy vegetables, fruit, yeast, and pulses (dried legume seeds, such as beans, which are cooked for eating) are good sources of folacin, as are kidney, liver, and cow’s milk.

2.6.5 Thiamin (B1)

FUNCTION Thiamin is necessary for functioning of the central nervous system. A deficiency in this water-soluble vitamin results in loss of reflexes and muscle control, especially in the legs. Beriberi is a disease of the nervous system which results from thiamin deficiency.

PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS In cereals thiamine is found primarily in the germ and outer seed coat and so deficiencies of this vitamin occur where polished rice or other refined grain is the staple. Starchy roots (such as cassava) are also very low in thiamine and diets based on these roots can lead to deficiency.

REQUIREMENTS Only about six weeks supply of thiamin is maintained in the body. The daily adult intake suggested for thiamin is approximately 0.4 mg/1,000 kcal with increases of 0.1-0.2 mg/day more for pregnant and lactating women.43 Because thiamin is essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates, diets that rely heavily on carbohydrates for energy require more of this nutrient; high-fat diets need less. SOURCES Thiamin is present in green vegetables and fruit, seeds, nuts, yeasts, pulses, and unrefined cereals. Fish, meat, and milk, including breast milk, are also sources of thiamin. Especially good dryland garden sources (per 100 gm edible portion) include cashew nuts (0.2 mg) and cooked, leafy cowpea vine tips (0.3 mg).

2.6.6 Riboflavin (B2)

FUNCTION Water-soluble riboflavin is necessary for chemical reactions in the body which synthesize protein, release energy from foods, and grow and repair body tissues. PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS A deficiency of riboflavin causes lesions of the skin, especially the lips and corners of the mouth, and the tongue becomes a purplish red color. REQUIREMENTS Requirements for riboflavin are currently being reexamined. Based on extensive studies in China, some researchers are suggesting an RDA of 0.6 mg/day for adults, half the previously accepted RDA.44 The research in China has not yet led to new RDAs for riboflavin during pregnancy and lactation. The current official RDA for the United States is an additional 0.3 mg/day during pregnancy and 0.5 mg/day during lactation.45

SOURCES Riboflavin is found in dark green vegetables, yeast, milk and milk products, insects, eggs, fish, and meat. Riboflavin in pulses such as lentils and fava beans is increased by sprouting (section 15.5.1). Fermentation increases the riboflavin content of milk.

Figure 2.8 Green Leaves are a Good Source of Vitamin C

2.6.7 Niacin

FUNCTION Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin required by the body to metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Without it many essential chemical reactions cannot occur. The body also creates niacin from the EAA tryptophan at the rate of 1 mg of niacin from 60 mg of dietary tryptophan. PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS The disease resulting from a deficiency of niacin is called pellagra. Symptoms include skin lesions, changes in tongue color, diarrhea, and mental disturbances (the three Ds: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia). Niacin deficiency is common in Africa,46 especially where maize is the staple because the niacin in maize is unavailable to humans, and that grain is also low in tryptophan. Niacin deficiency can be avoided by supplementing maize-based diets with beans and other sources of tryptophan, as is often done traditionally. Niacin deficiency is also found in diets based on cassava tubers and may be associated with a staple diet of sorghum as this cereal is high in the amino acid leucine which can interfere with tryptophan and niacin metabolism.47

REQUIREMENTS Approximately 5-15 mg of niacin/day is recommended for small children, 15-20 mg/day for adolescents and adults, and increases of 2 and 5 mg/day for pregnant and lactating women, respectively.48 SOURCES Bananas, groundnuts, cowpeas, dried chilis, and sesame and sunflower seeds are all excellent sources of niacin. Another good source is yeast from beer brewing; in some countries of savanna West Africa yeast is often added to soups. Most pulses and cereals do not have a high niacin content, but where they are the staple they may supply most of the niacin in the diet. Insects and meat are also good sources of niacin.


Like plants, people need mineral elements to stay alive. Seven elements account for 60-80% of the minerals in the body: sodium (Na), potassium (K), chlorine (Cl), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P), and magnesium (Mg).

In addition, eight other minerals, referred to as trace elements, are needed in very small (trace) amounts: iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), iodine (I), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), chromium (Cr), selenium (Se), and molybdenum (Mb). We discuss only iron, zinc, and calcium because deficiencies of these minerals are the only ones common in drylands that can be easily addressed by household gardens.

2.7.1 Iron (Fe)

FUNCTION Iron is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all cells of the body. PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS Iron deficiency anemia is a major health problem in drylands. This nutritional anemia is caused by dietary lack of available iron or of vitamin C. Vitamin C aids in iron absorption if eaten at the same time as foods containing iron. Signs of this anemia include tiredness, breathlessness, and pale skin (caused by lack of red blood) under the eyelids, inside of cheeks, and beneath fingernails. A spoon-shaped deformity of the nails on both hands may also be present. Vitamin C in the diet should be increased after any loss of blood, for example from hookworm, menstruation, and childbirth.

REQUIREMENTS49 Depending upon diet and work, the RDAs for men and postmenopausal women are 5-9 mg/day and for young children, 5-10 mg/day. The higher requirements are for populations whose diets are primarily based on plant foods, as is common in the Third World. For women in their reproductive years, 14-28 mg of iron/day is suggested, the most being required during pregnancy and breast-feeding.

SOURCES There is a high iron content in many dryland garden crops including dates, figs, nuts, seeds, beans, and asparagus, as well as most DGLVs. However, only 5-10% of this iron is in a form that can be absorbed by humans. The iron in animal products is several times more absorbable than that in plant foods. Also, the iron content of plants depends on the iron content of the soil. Millet, wheat, yeast, and organ meats (e.g., liver, kidney) are good sources of this nutrient, although phytates in some cereals, nuts, and pulses lower iron absorption (section 2.10). Using iron utensils and cooking pots increases the amount of iron contained in the food.

2.7.2 Zinc (Zn)

FUNCTION Zinc is necessary for normal growth, sexual development, and reproduction. A deficiency leads to loss of appetite, failure to grow and to develop sexually, slow wound healing, decreased sense of taste, and changes in skin texture. PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS Zinc deficiency is found in the Near East, especially Iran and Egypt. The availability of dietary zinc is reduced by binding with phytates and fiber,50 which may be a problem with some dryland diets. REQUIREMENTS The RDA for the United States of 15 mg/day for men and 12 mg/day for women51 assumes regular consumption of animal products. Absorption of zinc in persons on largely vegetarian diets may be limited, due in part to phytates and fiber in the diet, and so the RDA may be higher. SOURCES Most seeds are high in zinc; for example, pumpkin seeds have 7 mg/100 gm. Zinc is also found in DGLVs, pulses, eggs, milk, seafood, and meat. The zinc content of plants (and of animal products formed from them) depends upon the zinc content of the soil.

2.7.3 Calcium (Ca)

FUNCTION Calcium is essential for the formation and repair of bones and teeth which contain 99% of the body’s calcium. In the blood stream this mineral is needed for the muscles and nerves and for coagulation of blood.52 PROBLEMS IN DRYLANDS Dryland diets high in phytates and oxalic acid may lead to calcium deficiencies (section 2.10). REQUIREMENTS Within limits, the body appears to adapt to varying intakes of calcium by adjusting the amount of the mineral excreted.53 In addition, the more protein consumed the less efficient the body’s use of calcium, with large amounts excreted by individuals on high-protein diets. For this reason the RDA for calcium is higher for populations with high-protein diets, for example, children and adults in the United States (800 mg/day), as compared with the RDAs for populations whose diets contain less protein, for example, children (400-700 mg/day) and adults (400-500 mg/day) in Africa.54 SOURCES DGLVs, some pulses, hulled sesame seeds, yeast, and dairy products are all sources of calcium.

2.8 Fats

Dietary fats can be either solid like butter or lard or liquid like groundnut oil. They provide twice as much energy per volume as protein or carbohydrates, and are therefore good additions to weaning foods (section 16.3.1). Fat in the diet is needed to digest the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats contain fatty acids, some of which are essential for the human body.55 Plant oils like those found in avocados, olives, groundnuts, and seeds such as sesame and melon are a good source of fatty acids. In the body, fat is the storage tissue formed when more energy is consumed than is immediately needed.

2.9 Fiber

Dietary fiber such as cellulose is an indigestible carbohydrate, or carbohydrate-like substance in plant food. Fruits, vegetables, and pulses from the garden are sources of fiber, as are unrefined grains. Fiber is important for the movement of food through the intestine. It encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria there and helps prevent some diseases in the digestive and excretory systems. The kind of fiber in fruit, vegetables, and pulses also helps reduce cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance in the blood essential for body functioning - but too much of it clogs the arteries causing heart disease, a major problem in the industrial world and some areas of the Third World.

Too much fiber in the diet, however, can reduce absorption of many minerals because the food is moving too quickly through the body. This is especially important in the diets of young children. Some of the processing and preparation methods discussed in section 16.3, such as removing bean “skins,” help reduce fiber content of garden produce used in weaning foods.

2.10 Anti-Nutritients

Anti-nutritional factors, or anti-nutrients, are substances found in most foods, and that are poisonous or in some way limit the nutrients available to the body. Plants have evolved these chemicals to protect themselves from being eaten.56 Frequently the anti-nutrients occur in such small quantities that they cause no harm. But if the diet is not varied some of these toxins can build up in the body to harmful levels. In many areas traditional food processing techniques effectively eliminate any harmful effects of anti-nutrients occurring in the diet. The anti-nutrients discussed below are summarized in Table 2.4.

Some of the most common anti-nutritients found in dryland garden foods are those that form insoluble salts with minerals like calcium and iron, reducing absorption of these minerals by the body. Phytates occur in cereals, pulses, and nuts. People consuming foods high in phytates may develop symptoms of calcium deficiency, especially in areas or seasons where calcium intake is low. Phytates also appear to decrease iron and zinc absorption.57 To reduce phytate content one may soak pulses and discard the water or sprout them.58 The slow fermentation process used to leaven many traditional grain breads also reduces phytates. The longer the fermentation the fewer the anti-nutrients that remain in the bread.

Relatively large amounts of oxalates are found in some DGLVs like leaf amaranths and onion greens, as well as in purslane and in members of the chenopod family such as spinach and chard. A diet high in oxalates can cause calcium deficiency and could eventually lead to kidney damage.59 Boiling or steaming these vegetables and then rinsing them and discarding the water reduces their oxalate content. Sesame seed hulls contain oxalates and should be removed to make the calcium in the seed available.

Table 2.4 Anti-Nutrients Common in Dryland Diets

Anti-nutrient and source


Ways to minimize

Phytates: cereals, pulses, nuts

Reduce Ca and Fe absorption

Soak (discard water), and sprout cereal before cooking, slow fermentation of bread doughs

Oxalates: DGLVs, sesame seed coats, fruit

Reduce Ca absorption, encourage formation of kidney stones

Steam or boil greens, rinse and discard the water, hull sesame seeds, eat fruit soon after harvest

Tannins: dark-colored pulses, sorghum.

Reduce digestion of proteins and CBHs

Soak (discard water), sprout and cook, remove dark seed coats

Oligosaccharides: pulses

Intestinal gas, discomfort, loss of appetite

Sprout, ferment, cook thoroughly

Hydrogen cyanide (HCN): crucifers, sorghum sprouts, cassava, cashews, groundnuts

Contribute to goiter if diet is low in iodine

Varied diet, more iodine consumption, cook sorghum sprouts, ferment cassava, eat crucifers that are young because age increases HCN content

Aflatoxin: many pulses, nuts, and seeds

Liver damage, cancer

Dry, cool storage conditions, do not store damaged pulses, nuts, or seeds

Some vitamins in food may be destroyed by anti-nutritional substances. Ascorbase is an enzyme released by plant cells in response to damage such as harvesting.60 This enzyme starts a reaction eventually changing ascorbic acid to oxalic acid, an oxalate. The ascorbase content of fruits and vegetables varies both between species and varieties. Because this reaction increases during storage, especially in warm conditions, it is best to harvest most garden produce as close as possible to the time when it will be eaten (section 15.2).

Tannins are substances in food that reduce digestion of proteins and carbohydrates. The foods from dryland gardens highest in tannins are pulses, especially their seed coats. Tannins have a dark color; pulses with light-colored seed coats contain a negligible amount of tannins. Removing the seed coat, as is traditionally done when making dhal in India, removes 83-97% of the tannins in pulses.61 Simple practices, already used in the preparation of pulses in many areas, such as soaking and discarding the soaking water, germination, and cooking are all ways to remove tannins. Sorghum can also contain significant amounts of tannins. In southern Africa where a variety of drought-resistant sorghum with a high tannin content is eaten it is associated with an unusually high incidence of cancer of the esophagus.62

Other anti-nutritional factors found most often in pulses are oligosaccharides which increase the formation of intestinal gas, often causing discomfort and loss of appetite. Sprouting, fermentation, and thorough cooking reduce oligosaccharides.63

Some foods contain substances that react to form the poison hydrogen cyanide (HCN) either during processing or digestion. Where diets are low in iodine, HCN is a cause of a disease of the thyroid gland called goiter. Sources of HCN in dryland diets are cashew nuts, groundnuts, and many vegetables in the crucifer family. For people not suffering from goiter, consuming these foods as part of a varied diet is not a problem. Sorghum sprouts and cassava are high in HCN. However, if the sprouts are cooked or malted and the cassava is fermented, both traditional practices in West Africa, the HCN content is reduced to safe levels.64 Lima beans are also high in cyanides and should not be eaten raw. Lima beans should be presoaked, drained, boiled, and drained again to rid them of most of this toxin.

Some molds growing on crops (section 13.3.4) and foods produce poisons called mycotoxins. The mycotoxin aflatoxin is found in molding dryland garden foods such as groundnuts and other pulses, nuts, and seeds. If eaten, it can cause severe and sometimes deadly liver damage. Aflatoxin-producing molds grow under warm, moist conditions, and so care must be taken when storing these foods during the rainy season. Damaged and broken pulses are especially vulnerable, and any that look discolored, are moldy, or have a bad smell should be composted, not eaten. They should not be fed to animals as they too can be poisoned and the toxin can be passed on to people through meat and milk.65


The nutritional effect of gardens has seldom been measured, partly because it is so difficult to do. However/gardens can make a significant contribution to solving three of the most important dryland nutritional problems: PEM of infants and children, vitamin A deficiency, and anemia resulting from lack of iron and vitamin C.66

Even when working with gardens on the community and household level, the path between food production and nutrition is complex. Availability and access to land, good soil, water, and seeds or cuttings determine whether food can be produced. When gardens can be grown their influence on the nutritional status of household members depends on many factors including:

· The amount of different foods harvested from the garden during each season of the year.
· The quantity and quality of the nutrients in garden produce.
· The availability of nutrients in garden produce.
· Methods of storage and processing.
· Distribution of garden produce to different members of the household.
· The amount of produce not consumed by the household, e.g., because it is sold.
· The way that food from the garden is combined in meals with other foods.
· The health and activities of household members.

For example, an assessment may find that children in households with gardens are just as deficient in vitamin A as children in households without gardens. The gardens are not providing the children with the benefits they need. In surveys in Indonesia, for example, it was found that 80% of families with children who had a vitamin A-deficiency-caused eye disease consumed DGLVs once a day, and 99% once a week, the same frequency as families of children without the vitamin A deficiency disease.67 To understand the potential contribution of gardens to improving vitamin A nutrition in this case, we would need to know what causes the difference in the vitamin A nutrition of children in families who consume similar amounts of DGLVs. Is there a difference in the distribution of DGLVs in these families? Are foods prepared differently? Are children’s eating habits different?

Many of the dryland garden crops that are excellent sources of energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, and fiber have been presented in sections 2.4 to 2.9. In the following sections we discuss the nutrient yields of gardens and the contribution of gardens to nutrition.

2.11.1 Nutrient Yields from Gardens

The nutrients produced in indigenous Third World gardens have rarely been studied, but data from other types of gardens is available. Research on two urban desert gardens (77.4 and 58.3 m2, 833 and 627 ft2) in Arizona, USA, recorded a year-round harvest that provided the gardeners with significant proportions of the RDAs for 10 nutrients, including over 50% of the RDA for vitamins A and C for more than half the months of the year. Only 2 to 3 hours per week were spent gardening.68 Perhaps the most ambitious study to date was carried out in experimental gardens in the humid tropics by the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) in Taiwan.69 Results from the third year of the study (1983-84) showed yearly production of RDAs for a family of five, determined quarterly on samples from the gardens, as follows: 13-18% protein, 33-42% calcium, 56-82% iron, 82-125% vitamin A, and 336-374% vitamin C.

2.11.2 Effects on Nutrition

The ways in which the abundant nutrients potentially available from household gardens are actually translated into improved nutritional status depend not only on the place of garden foods in the diet, but on the complex social dynamics of households, which determine who receives which foods at what times. Working males, for example, may be the first to eat, then older women, and finally younger women and their children. This is sometimes due to women’s weaker bargaining power in the household, or to their low social, economic, and cultural status outside of the household. One study in the Philippines showed that this can result in inadequate consumption of calories by women as compared with men.70

Having more household food may result in more reaching the last in line. When women control the garden and its produce, household food distribution may also change for the better nutrition of children, especially during weaning.71 Yet it can never be assumed that women’s gardens will automatically have this benefit, since there is very little evidence on how frequently it occurs, or what conditions favor it. Therefore, garden projects promoting women’s gardens for improving nutrition of women and children must be based on an understanding of how household dynamics affect food distribution and use of income in particular communities.

The combination of foods in various household meals can have a great effect on the total nutritional value of the diet. In theory, gardens facilitate the continual consumption of small amounts of a variety of nutrients which complement the rest of the diet.72 For example, the essential amino acid patterns ill the protein of vegetables complement those of many grains, seeds, and nuts (section 2.5). In addition, eating fresh produce from the garden soon after harvesting avoids the postharvest nutrient losses that occur due to storage, handling, exposure, and processing.

Most of the research on gardens, food consumption, and household nutritional status is from humid areas. For example, in Tabasco, Mexico, it was found that fruits and vegetables were not eaten unless they were grown in the family garden because they were otherwise too expensive to purchase.73 A study in Java found that low-income households consumed the least amount of rice, but the greatest amount of leafy garden vegetables high in vitamin A, and that gardens provided up to 40% of the household requirement for energy.74 In Puerto Rico, “homemakers” were more likely to have diets adequate in vitamins A and C, and preschoolers in vitamins A, C, and riboflavin, and calcium, energy, and protein, when their households produced fruit and vegetables for consumption in home gardens.75

In southern India it was found that garden production was positively correlated with the nutritional status of weaning age children.76 This was especially true in the slack season for off-farm employment when garden produce, or the income from selling it, kept child nutritional status from falling. A garden project in the Philippines found gardens were positively associated with higher levels of vitamin A in children who had the lowest levels before the project, and with a significant increase in weight for height of children.77

Nutrition education can be a vital part of garden programs aimed at improving nutrition, especially when gardens are being introduced for the first time, or when new types of garden crops become available. 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.78 This project is said to have reduced child death due to malnutrition among gardening households from 10% to 6% in three years. However, research on the nutritional impact of a garden project 20 years after its initiation in Senegal shows no improvements among participating households.79 The researchers believe this is due to lack of nutrition education and because most of the produce was being sold with only a small percentage of that income used directly for food purchases.

Nutrition education is also vital to counter the increasing consumption of prestige foods associated with a “modern” way of life, many of which are not as nutritious as indigenous local foods. For example, in northeast Brazil where there is vitamin A malnutrition, nutrition education may be necessary to counter the replacement of local fruits and vegetables high in vitamin A with fruits and vegetables imported from the south. These imports are more popular because of their association with the more “modern,” affluent section of the country.80

It is obvious that there are many links between the garden and improved nutritional status. Problems can occur with any one of the links which will decrease the nutritional contribution of the garden. However, some ways to improve the chances that gardens will succeed in having a long-lasting, positive effect on people’s overall nutritional status are to:

· Base new or improved gardens on indigenous gardens and indigenous crops.

· Encourage gardeners to grow and eat a wide variety of foods.

· Support or introduce simple harvesting and processing techniques that preserve the nutritional quality of garden foods.

· Recognize and address intra-household differences in consumption.

· Include participatory nutrition education at all stages of the work.

2.12 Resources

The best source of information for those working to improve nutrition is the diet of healthy people in the community. Secondary school or college nutrition textbooks are good references for learning the physiology of human nutrition. Detailed information on the RDAs can be found in NRC (1989), FAO (1973), and Passmore, Nicol, and Rao (1974).

Diet for a Small Planet (Lapp982) is a good exploration of the social, economic, environmental, and nutritional impacts of protein in the diet.

One of the best practical books on nutrition for field workers is Human Nutrition in Tropical Africa by Latham (1979). Although written from the author’s experience in East Africa, the combination of simple theory and practical information give this book a wider audience.

“What to Eat to be Healthy,” Chapter 11 in Where There is No Doctor (Werner 1977), discusses nutrition and health. The Manual on feeding Infants and Young Children (Cameron and Hofvander 1983) focuses on infants’ and children’s special nutritional needs. Brownrigg (1985) includes some case histories and discussion about garden projects and nutrition.


1 Latham 1990.

2 NRC 1989:10-12.

3 NRC 1989.

4 Passmore, et al. 1974.

5 Leung, et al. 1968; FAO 1982a; Leung and Flores 1961; Leung, et al. 1972, respectively.

6 For gardens see USDA 1982,1984a, 1984b, 1989.

7 Cameron and Hofvander 1983:38-39.

8 Cameron and Hofvander 1983:11.

9 Cameron and Hofvander 1983:3.

10 Calculated from Passmore, et al. 1974.

11 Calculated from NRC 1989.

12 FAO 1973:36.

13 FAO 1973:36.

14 700-800 ml breast milk produced/day × 35 mg Ca/100 ml breast milk, calculated from Cameron and Hofvander 1983:84-86.

15 Levi and Havinden 1982:55, 62.

16 Brun, et al 1981.

17 Bleiberg, et al. 1980.

18 Brun, et al. 1981.

19 Bleiberg, et al. 1980; Brun, et al. 1981.

20 IDRC 1980:15.

21 Latham 1979:123.

22 Latham 1979:113.

23 Lapp982:420.

24 Lapp982:172-182.

25 IDRC 1980:11.

26 Calculated from Leung, et al. 1968.

27 Campbell, et al. 1990.

28 Lapp982:70.

29 DeWalt 1985; Youtopoulos 1985.

30 Sommer, et al. 1983,1986.

31 Charoenkiatkul, et al. 1985; Sommer, et al. 1987.

32 Eastman 1988:23-37.

33 WHO 1982.

34 IDRC 1980:15.

35 Shrimpton 1989.

36 NRC 1989:80-81.

37 Latham 1979:107.

38 Waterlow 1982.

39 NRC 1989:93.

40 NRC 1989:117-120.

41 Latham 1979:85.

42 Passmore, et al. 1974:68-69.

43 Latham 1979:81.

44 Campbell, et al. 1990, n.d.

45 NRC 1989:135.

46 Latham 1979:83.

47 Latham 1979:83.

48 Passmore, et al. 1974.

49 Passmore, et al. 1974:68-69.

50 NRC 1989:207.

51 NRC 1989:209.

52 Latham 1979:66-69.

53 NRC 1989:175,178.

54 Latham 1979:69.

55 NRC 1989: 46-49.

56 Ames 1983; NAS 1973.

57 Oberleas 1973:367-368.

58 Akpapunam and Achinewhu 1985; Khokhar and Chauhaw 1986.

59 Ferrando 1981:32.

60 Ferrando 1981:39.

61 Rao and Deosthale 1982.

62 Singleton and Kratzer 1973:329.

63 Achinewhu 1986; Akpapunam and Achinewhu 1985.

64 Dada and Dendy 1987; Odunfa 1985.

65 Ferrando 1981:66-68.

66 Latham 1984.

67 Tarwotjo, et al. 1982.

68 Cleveland 1982.

69 Gershon, et al. 1985

70 Folbre 1984.

71 Carloni 1981.

72 Grivetti 1978; Longhurst 1983.

73 Dewey 1981.

74 Stoler 1979.

75 Immink, et al. 1981.

76 Kumar 1978.

77 Solon, et al. 1979.

78 Brownrigg 1985:68-76.

79 Brun, et al. 1989.

80 Shrimpton 1989.


One reason why many people garden is because of the income they can earn by marketing garden products. More and more households need this income to pay for medicine, school fees, clothing, and food.

Economic data on dryland gardens is very rare. There is little doubt, however, that gardens make economic sense to the women, men, and households who have them. Even in the midst of large-scale development projects, as along side irrigation canals in savanna West Africa, Pakistan, or Egypt, gardens tend to emerge spontaneously. The questions that are important for the readers of this book are:

· What are the economic contributions of existing gardens?
· Can they be improved, and, if so, how?
· Under what conditions will gardens make economic sense for households that do not have them?

The answers to these questions must be sought in each local situation. The goal of our discussion of garden economics and marketing in this chapter is to help readers ask these questions in ways that will lead to answers.

Many of the assumptions of conventional economic theory ignore social and ecological reality.1 The primary goal of development programs based on this theory is economic growth. These programs are a major cause of poverty and environmental destruction in both industrial and Third World countries. We believe that economic development should be:

· Environmentally sustainable by not destroying resources that will be needed by future generations.

· Socially sustainable by providing benefits equitably, which may include redistribution of control over resources.

To meet these goals development projects should:

· Encourage local self-reliance by building on local knowledge and resources.
· Encourage both biological and cultural diversity.
· Encourage community organizations that place a priority on social well-being.

The kind of gardens promoted in this book are an important part of this type of economic development.

3.1 Summary

Gardens provide both income and savings, but their effects on the whole household or individual household members depend on many factors both within and beyond the household. To contribute to sustainable development, each garden or garden project needs to be adapted to the local social system and environment, and not based on the faulty assumptions of conventional economics. This demands an understanding of gardeners’ economic decision making and the forces that affect it. For example, while women are often the gardeners in the household, they may not have control over productive resources like land, or over income from marketing garden produce. Marketing and processing techniques can help to reduce gardeners’ risks and to increase benefits to the household. Forming cooperatives can spread risks and is often an appropriate way to organize market gardening. In many places indigenous or spontaneous social groups become the basis for successful marketing cooperatives.


Economic development is dominated by the economic theories of Western “capitalist” nations, increasingly so as “socialist” states like the USSR and those of Eastern Europe adopt the Western model. However, it is becoming more apparent that many of the common economic assumptions are ethnocentric, and are not compatible with sustainable development, especially in the Third World.2 Some of the key assumptions on which conventional economic theory is based include:

· Economic development means economic growth.

· Resources for continued growth will be available.

· Any destructive effects of growth on society and the environment are only important if they have an effect in the market, and if they do, they can be reduced by better technology and more economic growth.

· Individual behavior is motivated only by self-interest.

· Resources are best allocated in markets where everyone is trying to maximize their individual profit.

New information from ecological and social research is showing the negative effects of this kind of economic development on the environment, indigenous cultures, and the poor. In the industrial capitalist countries (the United States, Western Europe, Australia, and Japan), industrial socialist countries (the USSR and Eastern Europe), and in Third World countries, there is a small but growing movement toward alternatives to conventional economics, including agricultural systems that are less environmentally and socially destructive.3 Part of this movement is a recognition that economic development does not necessarily mean economic growth, especially at the global level.4

In the sections that follow, we discuss four aspects of economic development that are important for understanding the role of gardens. Sometimes the lack of information about small-scale food production and the unfounded assumptions of conventional Western economics make gardens, especially indigenous gardens, seem an unwise investment of resources. In fact, indigenous gardens often make economic sense as well as social and environmental sense - they have the potential to be a viable development strategy.

3.2.1 Production Efficiency

An important question concerning garden economics is whether gardens are worth the investments they require. Efficiency is a measure of the ratio of investments to returns, or output to input (output/input). Irrigation efficiency, for example, is the ratio of irrigation water delivered to the root zone of the plants in the garden, to the amount of water extracted from a river, well, or other source (section 12.2). Irrigation efficiency increases as the water in the root zone increases as a proportion of the total amount of water extracted.

The same operation can have high or low efficiency depending on how investments and returns are measured and what factors they include. For example, there is a tendency to think that large-scale, industrial food production is more efficient than small-scale, non-industrial production.5 This is because industrialized nations emphasize labor efficiency, and are able to increase this through greater inputs of machinery, fossil fuels, and commercial chemical pesticides and fertilizers. This greatly increases the amount of harvest per worker, but greatly decreases the amount of harvest per unit of energy and other resources invested.6 Simply because of the shortage of capital at the household and national level for buying machinery and other imported inputs, low-input gardens are an attractive economic alternative to large-scale or capital-intensive production. In addition, it is also widely agreed that in terms of efficiency of land use, the yield per unit of land and other resources tends to be greater on smaller production units7 (section 3.3.1).

Low-income households in drylands often have more labor than they have capital to purchase labor-saving inputs like fuel and machinery. Productive resources that are often scarce for these households are land, organic matter, and especially water. Under such conditions it makes sense to get the most from scarce resources by labor-intensive, small-scale production, like household gardens. However, not all Third World households in rural or urban areas have an abundance of labor. For these households, like the Mossi people of Burkina Faso described in section 2.3.3, increasing the efficiency of (i.e., returns to) labor might be possible. However, increasing the amount of labor invested, even with higher rates of return, is not possible unless the households have more food to eat, or more time.

We need to go beyond economic measures in evaluating the potential of gardens. Conventional measures of efficiency calculate output in terms of harvest size, or monetary profit. Yet, even though harvest size and profits are important, they are often not very good measures of people’s well-being, especially over the long term (section 3.2.4). We should instead be more interested in output as measured by diet, nutritional status, health, equity of distribution, environmental degradation, local self-sufficiency, and self-esteem.

Using local needs as the criteria, efficiency and the effects of gardens or garden projects on efficiency could be more meaningfully measured by such output/input ratios as:

· Vitamin A nutritional status/investment of time and resources in household gardens.

· Number of mothers feeding nutritious weaning foods from the garden/number of gardens established in a community.

· Number of poor households using garden plots/total number of plots at a community garden site.

Another problem with conventional measures of efficiency is that measures of inputs seldom include the costs of long-term environmental or social degradation.8 For example, the cost of irrigation water does not include the losses in production due to soil salinization or waterlogging which irrigation usually causes, or the cost of expensive methods to reduce these problems. The cost of insecticides does not include the costs of damage to human health, the loss of bees and other beneficial insects, or water pollution. As this damage occurs, the costs are borne by the society at large, and by future generations. If these costs were to be included in calculations of efficiency, many small-scale, low-input systems would be recognized as much more efficient than the large-scale, industrial systems that are promoted by so many as a model for the Third World.

3.2.2 Economic Rationality and Risk

Until recently, a common misunderstanding was that small-scale producers in the Third World were economically irrational. It was thought that they were not able to evaluate possible economic returns to alternative investments of their resources as a basis for decision making. It is now accepted by many, though not all, development experts that Third World gardeners and farmers understand these concepts very well, and only appear to be acting “irrationally” because the outsider does not understand the local conditions.9 However, it is still assumed that the main criterion gardeners and farmers use in making decisions is how to optimize their economic return.

Figure 3.1 shows some of the relationships that may determine how much investment of time, including labor and management, as well as other resources such as water, organic matter, or land a gardener will be willing to invest to increase the amount he is able to harvest from the garden. This production possibility curve illustrates the general rule that as inputs (such as hours of labor) increase, the return (garden harvest) increases at a slower rate. Economists refer to this as diminishing marginal returns.

Figure 3.1 Production Possibility Curve: The Relationship Between Investments and Returns

For example, a gardener is working in his garden 1 hour a week, and decides to work 1 additional hour (see Figure 3.1). The increase in his returns (A) for that additional hour will be greater than the increase in his returns from an additional 1 hour a week if he had already been working in the garden 9 hours a week (B). This is because the more a person works the more tired he becomes, and because the first jobs done in the garden are those with the highest output per unit input, for example watering, pulling the biggest weeds, transplanting, and managing the most harmful pests. Minor tasks that are done later will therefore have a lower return, for example, pulling smaller weeds, and managing the less damaging pests. If the gardener is sick, or lacks energy because of food shortages, his interest and ability to work in the garden will also be affected (sections 2.3.3 and 2.3.4). Adopting different techniques can sometimes increase the productivity of labor. For example, a person who keeps his garden well mulched in the hot, dry season, or who uses a hoe, may be able to produce more per hour of labor than someone who does not mulch, or who does not use hand tools.

Another reason why gardeners and farmers do not often invest the time and resources to produce the maximum possible yields or profits (point X in Figure 3.1) from their plots is because of their perception of risk. Risk is the gardener’s judgment about the probability of failure due to his inability to predict uncertain events. For example, a gardener may try to plant as early as possible in the rainy season to have harvests sooner. However, the earlier he plants, the greater his risk of seedlings dying for lack of rain, since the timing and amount of rains at the beginning of the rainy season are very uncertain. Information on past events, like records of total monthly rainfall, or years or even generations of past experience, can decrease uncertainty about future events and the risks involved in basing decisions on these events. But this information does not eliminate risk (Box 11.3 in section 11.4.1).

Risks often increase as production approaches the maximum, in part because increasing production decreases diversity on many levels (section 14.2). Modern crop varieties, for example, may produce larger harvests than folk varieties if they are supplied with optimal water, nutrients, and protection from pests. However, when a drought, pest invasion, or other unforeseen event occurs, the harvest will be lower than with folk varieties (section 10.4). The gardener’s losses will be even greater than the loss of harvest if he invested in inputs such as chemical fertilizer. Thus with modern varieties the gardener’s risk is often greater.

Again, it is necessary for us to go beyond conventional economics. The goal of gardeners and farmers is not to produce as much as possible, but to use resources for a number of different purposes to achieve the greatest overall benefit. Therefore, deciding how much time and how many other resources to invest in the garden (Figure 3.2) will also depend on the returns to alternative uses of the same resources, including investing in field crop production, wage labor, crafts, school, religious activity, or building and maintaining social relationships.10 People will stop gardening when they believe that the returns are not worth the effort.11

Figure 3.2 Work is an Investment in the Garden

3.2.3 Control of Resources: Individual or the Group?

Conventional thinking in the Western industrialized countries is that maximizing profit on privately owned resources in the marketplace is the best way to ensure productive, sustainable use of those resources. However, this has not been the case in these countries. This is because markets have no way of sensing justice or sustainability, and in fact without outside social control, markets tend to result in inequitable distribution of economic benefits and to destroy natural resources.12

In many nonindustrial societies resources have traditionally been controlled by local communities as a group, and even resources controlled by an individual are often redistributed to other community members periodically.13 This is in contrast to capitalist market economies where most resources are considered to be private, and even public resources are often open to exploitation by influential individuals. In socialist industrial societies, many resources are controlled by the state, rather than local communities, and once again, influential people may be able to exploit those resources. While exploitation and concentration of power may also occur in societies with community control of resources, participation and equity are much more feasible because the group is joined by common interests and personal contact.

Resources controlled by the local community, called common property resources by researchers, are more responsive to changing community needs than resources controlled privately or by the government.14 This responsiveness is especially important for poor households who are most vulnerable to changes such as drought and food shortages; common property resources are often the only ones that these households have access to. Community control in cooperation with larger regional or national management organizations can be an effective way of organizing management of resources such as rivers or forests that are shared by more than one community.15 For example, nationalization of forests in Nepal, as in many other countries, undermined local management groups and resulted in widespread destruction because local people had lost control of the resource and the national government could not afford to protect the forests. However, local communal management groups are again being allowed to operate. Cooperation between the local and national levels has ended uncontrolled destruction of those forests, an essential resource for the communities that manage them.

It is important to distinguish common property management from no management at all, although some researchers and policymakers have failed to make this distinction. A resource for which there is no form of participatory community control is often rapidly exploited by individuals acting in self-interest. This has been called the “tragedy of the commons,” but this is incorrect because such resources are not truly “commons.” These resources are not seen as belonging to everyone, but rather to no one, as was the case with state control of the forests in Nepal. The advantages of common property and cooperation in marketing garden produce are discussed in section 3.4.3.

In communities where resources are treated as common property, there is a tendency for more intensively used resources to be under more individual control. This is because of the greater long-term investment, for example, of trees, manure, and irrigation canals, in intensively cultivated land. Household gardens are often the most intensive part of the household food production system and therefore the land, water, and other resources used tend to be under individual control. However, this is not the same as individual property rights as defined in Western market economies. The individual plots may often remain within a system of local community control that determines the amount of land an individual or household can use, and how that land may be used, inherited, and transferred.

In considering control over resources, it is important to examine how household resources are managed within the household. A common false assumption of conventional economics is that a household acts as a unified economic unit in deciding how to use resources. Evidence shows that inequities in the legal, social, and economic positions within the household, for example, between men and women, lead to patterns of control over resources that detract from the optimal well-being of the household. These patterns can result in the poor nutritional status of women or young children (section 2.11).16 Garden projects can make the distribution of household resources more equitable by providing new sources of income. This is especially important for those who may not be able to go far from the home because of other work or cultural obligations, as in the case of women, or because of physical difficulty, as with the elderly or disabled.

3.2.4 Economic Development and Well-Being

A major aim of most development programs is to increase national economic growth, commonly measured by gross national product (GNP), which is assumed to reflect overall national well-being.17 If better-off groups benefit most from this growth, it is often justified by saying that the benefits will “trickle down” to the poor. Often, however, such programs further increase inequality, and may even lead to greater poverty and malnutrition. This has been a consequence of the green revolution in countries like Mexico.18

The growth of poverty and malnutrition in the Third World, in spite of billions of dollars spent on development in the last 40 years, has led to a realization that if alleviating poverty and malnutrition are goals of development, then development programs must be specifically designed to do this. In many areas household gardens are one way of improving the nutrition and income of those most in need without excessive reliance on already overtaxed national bureaucracies and budgets.

Another major false assumption is that greater in- come and consumption - at the national, household or individual level-always results in increased well-being.19 Although increased household income can improve well-being, it should not be assumed that it will, especially as more and more “consumer goods” become available all over the world, even in remote areas. In some cases the desirability of these goods and their association with social status is persuasively promoted through aggressive advertising. These advertisements are successful both in industrialized countries and the Third World.

For example, if commercially manufactured “junk” foods such as carbonated drinks, candies, and other snack foods are easily available, low-income households frequently tend to purchase these rather than fruits or vegetables.20 Junk food ingredients such as sugar, water, salt, and flour, are usually so inexpensive that even at a relatively low selling price the manufacturer is able to make a sizable profit. These foods taste good, and may give the consumer a temporary surge of energy because of their high sugar and fat content. However, these are empty calories in that they do not provide significant amounts of vitamins, minerals, or protein. Commerciogenic malnutrition is the result of diets high in these foods and lacking in many necessary nutrients;21 it is found in both industrial countries and the Third World.

Additional household income is often spent on cigarettes and alcohol. These widely advertised, popular consumer goods harm people’s health in every population where they are consumed. They can cause cancer and heart disease, and can permanently damage unborn children.

The tremendous pressure of advertising is one reason why nutrition and health education is often essential for ensuring that garden income contributes to improved well-being. Community control over advertising and sales of harmful items like junk food, cigarettes, and alcohol may also be necessary.

On the other hand, some purchased goods that seem frivolous or a sign of poor judgment to outsiders do provide benefits. For example, the jewelry purchased by Peulh and Toucouler women in Mauritania (section 3.4.4) not only indicates their social standing but provides security for them in times of crisis and old age.

In many cultures hospitality and gift giving are essential social gestures that establish and reinforce relationships of mutual support. Income or savings maybe used to purchase the specific goods considered appropriate as gifts. In the West African Sahel, purchased kola nuts (Cola spp.), imported from the more humid regions in the south, are one of the most desirable offerings. In North Africa, tea made with purchased sugar and imported green or black dry tea leaves is a regular part of the daily diet. However, it is also essential to serve generous quantities of this heavily sweetened tea as a gesture of hospitality to visitors (Figure 3.3). In commercialized market economies hospitality and gift giving are no longer a large part of everyday social life. As a result the relationships they reinforced and the services provided by those relationships like care of children and the elderly must be purchased.


The term economy is based on a Greek word meaning the skillful management of household resources for the benefit of the household. However, in conventional economic theory and in popular use, economy has become strongly identified with money, giving rise to a very narrow interpretation of the economics of many activities,22 including gardening (Figure 3.4). Garden economics considers the effects that income or savings from gardens have on the well-being of those who are gardening, and the people they take care of. Since household incomes in Third World drylands are so low, frequently the equivalent of only a few hundred US dollars a year, even small amounts of savings or income from selling garden produce can make a big improvement in household well-being.

3.3.1 Garden Yields

Quantitative studies of household gardens are rare, but studies of small-scale agriculture suggest that we should expect yields to increase as the size of the farm decreases.23 Household garden yields can be high. A study in eastern Nigeria shows that dry weight yields per area from “compound” gardens are twice as large as those from more extensively cultivated outer fields.24

Figure 3.3 In Some Areas Purchased Goods are Important for Cultural and Social Life

As intensity in small-scale agriculture increases, that is as the number of times crops are planted and harvested per year increases, we should also expect annual yields to increase, although returns to labor generally decrease. Unlike field crop production, intensive garden production may not mean lower labor productivity. In indigenous mixed gardens returns to labor may actually increase because of greater biological diversity, continuous harvesting, and a large proportion of perennials. Continual harvesting may raise annual yields and encourage fine tuning of management strategies. The mixed compound gardens in eastern Nigeria mentioned earlier yield returns to labor that are four to eight times greater than those in outer fields. A study of two household gardens in an urban desert environment in Arizona, USA, showed yields between 1.2 and 6.5 kg/m2 (0.25 and 1.33 lb/ft2).25 Results from a number of studies of experimental and demonstration gardens show yields between 2.5 and 15.5 kg/m2 (0.51 and 3.18 lb/ft2).26 These results can be compared with commercial vegetable production in the United States, yielding on average 1.7 kg/m2 (0.35 lb/ft2). Garden returns to labor from less than 1 to almost 16 kg/hr (2.2 - 35.28 lb/hr), are much lower than in large-scale, commercial agriculture, but this comparison is deceptive. The high labor productivity in large, mechanized fields is made possible with large amounts of expensive, nonrenewable energy in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, electricity, and fuel. For this reason their production efficiency is debatable, especially now, with growing recognition of the serious environmental problems their use can cause.

3.3.2 Income and Savings from Gardens

Gardens can make economic contributions to household well-being in two ways: a) gardens can help save money by providing food as well as medicines, fodder, fiber, building and craft supplies, or other materials that would otherwise have to be purchased; and b) income from the sales of garden produce can be used to buy food and other items.

Figure 3.4 Garden Economics?

Household market gardens may look quite different than those used primarily for consumption. Rather than a continuous harvest of many different fruits and vegetables throughout the year, market gardens may concentrate on a limited number of crops that can be harvested in quantities large enough to make marketing them worthwhile. Frequently, however, household gardens serve both functions, with the same products being used by the household and marketed. If markets are close by, and there are few garden expenses, then proceeds from even small amounts of marketed produce can frequently be profitable for gardeners. This seems to be the case, for example, in gardens surveyed along the Senegal River in Mauritania.27 If marketing opportunities exist, development project gardens started for household consumption usually end up producing something for the market.28

In a market gardening project in Senegal, women’s gardens responded to the demand for fresh produce from hotels serving a booming tourist trade.29 While eggplant, tomatoes, onions, and peppers were both sold and consumed by gardeners’ households, salad greens were sold mostly to hotels. Home consumption accounted for 30% to 50% of the harvest from these gardens. In Java, lower-income households with smaller gardens were more likely to sell some garden produce, with gardens providing up to 20% of household income.30

Household gardens can also provide savings. For example, a survey of 250 households in low-income areas of Lusaka, Zambia, found that 57% of the households cultivated either a rainy season garden on the outskirts of the city, a plot garden near the house, or both.31 Of those with gardens, 77% of the plot gardens and 85% of the rainy season gardens were started to save money because of the rising price of vegetables in the market, and the need to supply the household with relish.

Similarly, in a survey of urban gardeners in Ibadan, Nigeria (40 people), and Freetown, Sierra Leone (60 people), most of the gardeners were low-income residents of urban shanty towns and poor neighborhoods.32 All of the low-income gardeners said that they gardened to feed their family and/or to supplement their low incomes.

In the industrial world, household gardens also provide important savings. Among farmers in Florida, USA, for example, household gardens contribute up to 10% of net farm income.33 A sample of more than 10,000 households in the United States showed that 27% used homegrown vegetables; that they saved 22% of the amount of money spent on vegetables by households without gardens; and that these savings were an important consideration in the decision to garden.34 Savings on food purchases were also found to be an important incentive for gardeners in Poland35 and Great Britain.36

3.3.3 Household Well-Being

The most important consideration about marketing garden produce is the ultimate effect it has on people. Complex relationships between a large number of variables determine how the produce from gardens affects household nutrition, income, and general well-being. Whether or not increased household income from the garden leads to improved household well-being (section 3.2.4) depends on how this additional income is spent. There is some evidence that household income does not correlate with improved nutrition,37 and there is little evidence to support the assumption that women are more likely than men to spend income on food.38 There simply are not many good studies of the effects of garden income or savings on well-being.

One study in humid southern Kerala state in India did show that increased income from women’s household gardens contributed to improved child nutrition, especially during the season when wage labor was scarce (section 2.11.2).39 A study of a 20-year-old garden project in Senegal found that the women gardeners spent only a small fraction of their net income from gardening on food.40 However, the effects of increased income can be indirect. Even though garden income may not directly improve nutrition, it may increase individual or household well-being in other ways such as improved social status, or it may free up other sources of income that can be spent on food at other times of the year.

Finally, while gardens certainly have the potential to make an economic contribution to household well-being, their value and relevance must always be considered within the larger socioeconomic setting. As one researcher has pointed out, nutrition programs often avoid the question of improving incomes and access to resources.41 Focusing on improved use by the poor of existing resources may avoid the real issue. For example, it is possible that even though gardens can provide immediate benefits to households, they can also support an overall structure that works against households trying to improve their situation. African slaves on Caribbean plantations were given plots of marginal land for gardens by plantation owners. Forcing the slaves to grow some of their own food relieved the slave masters of this expense, but did not improve the slaves’ status.42 Similary, in 19th century England, garden plots provided for low-income households by large landlords or the state served to subsidize low wages paid by the landlords or industry.43 Thus, encouraging the poor to grow gardens may be a way of avoiding larger issues of inequity in the system that keeps them poor. Ultimately, improved well-being does not come from making an exploitative system more efficient, but from changing its structure. For example, a study of urban gardening in Buenos Aires, Argentina, found that programs that encouraged gardens as a way of increasing self-reliance overlooked the need for structural changes such as income redistribution and support services.44 Local participation in and control over garden programs, and education, will help eliminate such possible negative effects of gardens.


Trade between different areas of the world has gone on for much of human history, for example, in the drylands of the Middle East and the Saharan-Sahel region of Africa. This trade involved exchange of a good produced in one area that was not produced in another. Markets today offer many goods that cannot be produced locally, such as salt, radios, batteries, or some medicines. In some cases the same goods are both produced locally and imported, like fruits and vegetables, snack foods, tools, clothing, and shoes. When locally produced goods are sold at small, local markets the producer and consumer share the same resource base and similar living conditions, and their exchange remains in the community. Buying an import that sells for less than a local product makes sense in the short run for the individual or household, but can have negative consequences for the community. As in any situation where there is no local control over decisions that have local effects, difficulties may arise. Most money spent on imports leaves the community, except for a small portion if a local middle person is involved. The effect is frequently felt most by the poor because it is often their production activities that are displaced.

The vulnerability of communities that are less and less involved in production for their own markets is evident not only in the Third World but also in industrialized countries. In the United States, for example, textile workers and others are losing jobs to factories in the Third World where production costs are much cheaper. These factories keep their costs low by paying their workers very low wages; these workers must also endure extremely poor living and working conditions.

3.4.1 Women and Marketing

Money necessary for household maintenance and child care must often be provided by women, and does not come from a common household fund. Where this is true, marketing garden produce can be important as a source of independent income for these women (Figure 3.5). In some areas where women’s market gardening has become more profitable, men have started competing with them after seeing how much income can be earned by market gardens.

In a project in Botswana a cooperative of 29 women and 4 men from the poorest households in the community work 33 garden plots that are hand irrigated with water stored behind an adjacent dam (section 3.4.3).45 Produce is eaten by the gardeners, shared with those who helped in the garden, or marketed. For 21 of the 33 gardeners, gardens are their major or only source of cash income. But as the commercial potential of such gardens is realized, better-off individuals have started claiming entire dam sites for themselves, and some have suggested that it may become necessary to reserve gardening sites for groups of the poor, most of whom are women.46

On the Tonga plateau of Zambia, a fruit and vegetable growing cooperative was begun by local villagers. Most of the women involved used land borrowed from their husbands, and as the project became more profitable the husbands took over. In response, 26 of the 33 women in the co-op now obtain their garden plots independently of their husbands and many of the women (44%) feel that their garden income has made them less dependent on their husband’s income.47

Sometimes the opposite situation can occur. In an area of southern Senegal, extension agents first promoted gardens to men.48 But the men soon stopped gardening and the women took over. The men said this was because gardening involved fetching water, a women’s activity which the men felt was inappropriate for them.

Marketing garden produce provides women an opportunity to leave the house and socialize, especially with other women. In the market, relationships can be formed or reinforced, and information, goods, and services are exchanged. Market days may be one of the few times available for important activities such as these.

Where women’s activities are restricted by religious customs, such as the seclusion of Moslem women, earning income must be done in or near the home compound. The possibilities include gardening, food processing, sewing, craft work, teaching and raising small animals.49 Garden produce can be sold to customers who come to the women’s homes, or sold outside the home by children.

3.4.2 Risk, Investment, and Return

Like gardening, marketing involves risk to the gardener because it is not possible for him to control or predict all the factors that influence its success. The gardener does not know exactly how much rain will fall and at what times, or which crops will be least affected by pests and diseases. Neither does he know exactly which fruits and vegetables will sell, how many people will want to buy them, how much they will be willing to pay, or how many others will be selling the same produce. The risks involved in making decisions based on these uncertain events must be carefully considered in any garden project promoting marketing. A market survey (section 4.7) can help assess the risk of market gardening.

To minimize the risks, marketing should start small, because the smaller the investments of time, labor, money, and water, the smaller the gardeners’ losses if there are problems. Another way to reduce risks is to only grow market crops that the household can use if they cannot be sold.

Processing and storing garden produce can also reduce the risks of marketing. If it is not possible to get fresh produce to market, or if the market price is not sufficient to repay the gardener’s investment, the goods may be processed, and stored, and consumed or sold later. Because processing adds value, the price of processed garden products such as dried amaranth leaves and tomatoes is almost always more than equivalent amounts of unprocessed ones. Such a reduction in risk and/or increase in income makes the extra work of processing worthwhile.

Figure 3.5 Marketing Garden Produce can be an Important Source of Income for Women

For example, a Dogon gardener in Mali took his large onion harvest to market.50 The fresh onions weighed 52 kg (115 lb), which, at the current market price of 75 Malian Franks (MF)/kg (34 MF/lb), would have given him (52 kg × 75 MF/kg) 3,900 MF. Because he had no immediate need for money he could afford to dry his onions and sell them later. When dried, his harvest weighed 8 kg (17.5 lb) and sold for 500 MF/kg (227 MF/lb) earning a total of 4,000 MF. If this gardener had stored the dried onions for several more months until onions of any kind become scarce he could have sold them for over 600 MF/kg (272 MF/lb). At that price the gardener would have made at least 4,800 MF, approximately 900 MF more than what the fresh harvest would have earned. Of course this is assuming that the gardener did not need the cash immediately and that the onions could have been stored without damage from pests or weather.

The value of the time and labor spent marketing garden produce or processing it for sale depends on the other possible uses of this time and labor (section 3.2.2). If the garden produce must be harvested and dried during a period of heavy labor demand, such as the time for weeding the fields, the cost to the household of labor diverted to harvest and dry garden produce would be extremely high and the market selling price would need to be high enough to compensate for this. However, at a less busy time for the men, such as during the dry season, the cost to the household of investing their labor in gardening maybe much lower. This may differ for women because the demands on their labor are less seasonal due to their year-round responsibility for maintaining the household (fetching water and fuel, child care, cooking), in addition to food production.

When more than one activity is carried out in a given time period, the amount of time invested in each activity is decreased. For example, if a gardener spends three hours selling her produce on each trip to the market, this time is considered part of the cost of marketing. However, during those three hours she may also make arrangements for religious ceremonies, buy food for her family, and visit with friends and relatives. This means that the time actually invested in marketing is reduced, making marketing less costly.

Just as investments or costs may have different values according to the situation, the same may be true of the value of returns, or cash income. For example, if money is needed to pay for an emergency such as medicine, that income will have far greater value and therefore be worth a greater investment than usual. Thus a man may be willing to spend however long it takes for him to sell US $5 worth of garden produce because he urgently needs that amount of cash. When the need is less urgent, his willingness to invest time and labor will also be reduced.

Gardeners sometimes choose not to sell their products directly to consumers but rather to a middleperson who then sells to the consumers. This saves the gardener time and sometimes expenses because middlepeople do the marketing and often transport the goods to market as well. Usually the gardener will not receive as high a price from a middleperson as he would have from consumers themselves. At the market the middleperson will have to sell the produce at a price that will earn him or her a profit. Sometimes this means that the gardener will receive a lower price from the middleperson than if selling directly to the consumer. However, if a middleperson is buying garden produce to sell in another area where market prices are higher, such as a large city, the gardener may be able to sell his produce to the middleperson for as much or more than the local market price.

Whether a gardener decides to sell his produce through a middleperson or directly depends upon market possibilities, transportation, the value of his time, and the return he hopes to receive. A fair and honest middleperson can work with a gardener or group of gardeners to the benefit of all. Middlepeople frequently have many contacts and access to resources like transportation, which are essential for marketing. But some middlepeople can be exploitative, seeing the relationship with the gardeners as an easy way for them to make money. Working with a middleperson can be especially risky when he is not well known in the local community. Problems can arise if the community is isolated and must rely on the middle-person’s honesty for information about current prices in distant markets.

Timing also affects the returns gardeners can get for their produce. Processing garden produce, as done by the Dogon gardener in Mali described earlier, is one way to time produce marketing to obtain the best prices. Hausa men with market gardens in northern Nigeria have devised ways to time the production of their garden crops, such as onions, to take advantage of seasonal changes in market prices.51 In this area onions are grown in the dry season and sell for the highest price during the rainy season, however, the gardeners need some income before that peak period. To meet that need some gardeners plant an early crop to sell locally and then plant again, later, to sell in the more profitable rainy season. Others plant only one crop of onions that are stored for sale during the rainy season. To meet their need for income before that time these gardeners sell fruits such as guavas, limes, and mangoes. Both these marketing strategies give the gardeners some early income, allowing them to wait and sell a crop of onions at the most profitable time.

3.4.3 Cooperation

Working together often reduces the risks of marketing, especially for poor gardeners. Cooperation does not necessarily eliminate competition in selling produce, but it can help prevent concentration of the benefits of marketing in the hands of a few. Projects to support market gardening frequently include the establishment of formal cooperatives with elected officials.

In Botswana, a small group of gardeners, most of them poor women (29 women and 4 men), joined together in 1981 to create a formal group under the Ministry of Agriculture called the Tshwaragano Vegetable Production Group (section 3.4.1).52 Group members pay a small annual fee and elect a grower’s committee, the group’s governing body. While each gardener controls her or his own plot, the group establishes and implements rules for participation in the garden and it negotiates with individuals and organizations outside the group for such things as transport to market and technical assistance. In addition to the individual plots whose profits go entirely to the plot holder, some areas are worked collectively. The profits from the sale of this produce are added to the annual fees and used to purchase tools and cow and chicken manure for fertilizer.

Traditional community groups, such as those based on age, may provide the basis for either formal or informal garden cooperatives. Informal cooperation is common among friends, relatives, neighbors, and residents of a community. An example of informal cooperation can be seen among the Hausa market gardeners in northern Nigeria described in section To minimize the risks of local markets being glutted, they sell their goods in groups made up of close male friends who are often relatives. These men put their goods together to be sold as a package to a middleperson. Everyone in the group receives the same per unit price for their goods. With this arrangement they do not have to compete with each other, which would lower the returns many would receive, and might even prevent some gardeners from selling anything.

Groups of market gardeners from rural areas outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, made contracts with groups of residents in the city to supply pesticide-free fresh produce.54 The gardeners bypassed the middlepeople who had forced them to use chemical insecticides and fertilizers, and the city residents got healthier produce. Both groups realized the necessity for political organization to make such arrangements work.

Market gardeners can cooperate in producing or processing goods from the garden; watching over and selling the goods of another gardener who cannot come to the market; agreeing on a minimum price below which they will not sell a particular good; or uniting to negotiate with truck drivers, middlepeople, merchants, and others. An example of women gardeners in Senegal joining to form a cooperative for providing transport of their garden produce to market is described in section 15.8.2.

Whatever the form, cooperation can provide support for group members and a stronger voice for pursuing needs and interests that group members share.

3.4.4 Garden Income and the Household

Who in the household controls the income received from marketing garden produce depends upon who grew it, who sold it, and their sex, age, and relationship to other household members.

In the Yatenga area of Burkina Faso, Mossi men and women garden separately on land belonging to their clans. A portion of their produce must be contributed to the family, but the rest can be sold by the gardener. Both men and women prefer not to ask their spouses for help in the garden, since they would then have to share the income. Instead they pay younger siblings (brothers or sisters) or other children.55

Among the Dogon of Mali, market gardening of onions is done mainly by men.56 Even 14-year-old boys are given garden space to grow a crop of onions for market. Women, however, are not included in the distribution of resources like land for onion gardening, and often they do not enjoy any benefits as a result of income earned by male members of their household from selling onions.

Peulh and Toucouler women in Mauritania must provide the sauces that are an essential part of the meal, as well as tea, sugar, housewares, soap, clothing, jewelry, and their daughter’s dowries.57 Clothing, jewelry, and dowries are indicators of these women’s social status and thus affect their position and voice in the community. Since the drought in the early 1970s, irrigated gardens have become more and more important for these women as a source of income for purchasing such goods.58

In contrast, married women in lower Egypt live with their husband’s family, and the mother-in-law has complete authority over her daughter-in-law.59 Especially in the early years of marriage, the mother-in-law controls all income earned by her daughter-in-law, including that earned from selling garden produce, eggs, and dairy products. Whatever money the daughter-in-law receives, if any, comes from her husband who is allowed to keep only a portion of his own income. All other earnings are given to the husband’s parents who run the household.

As the household changes through time, its need for income may also change. When the children grow up and are married, money will no longer be needed for school fees or dowries. Different needs will arise and the responsibility for providing the household with income may also shift, for example, from the older generation to the younger one.

3.5 Resources

The ability to read critically and recognize authors’ assumptions is important when reading any book, including those on economics. Sometimes basic assumptions are not stated, even though the “logic” of the book’s whole argument is based on them. Questioning those assumptions can improve the reader’s understanding of the author’s argument. Questioning assumptions and exploring more realistic or desirable alternatives is an important step in changing and improving our lives and the world.

Resources about economics can often be divided into two categories: those that look at macroeconomics on the level of regions, nations, and even the world; and those that focus on microeconomics at the level of the household or community. While both perspectives are useful, the microeconomic approach is most appropriate for the topics addressed by this book. However, we feel that it is essential to explore the relationship between these two levels of economic activity when trying to understand how local gardens and markets work.

A standard, well-written text for the macroeconomic perspective in Third World development that is firmly based on conventional economic assumptions is Economic Development in the Third World (Todaro 1985). Several books, for example, those by Wallerstein (1974) and Worsley (1984) focus on the effect of the conventional model on the Third World especially as a vehicle for furthering colonial and neocolonial agendas.

Representing the emerging discipline of “ecological economics,” Daly and Cobb (1989) state that the high social and environmental costs of conventional economics, also referred to as neoclassical economics, make this perspective dangerously destructive and unsustainable. Instead the authors propose a new direction for economics based on the ecological reality of our finite resources and more humane priorities concerning social responsibility. Schumaker’s Small is Beautiful (1973) is a classic work that advocates making the fulfillment of the basic needs of the majority the central focus of economic activities and policy. The small is beautiful approach is based on many of the same recommendations made by Mahatma Ghandi earlier this century in India. These include decentralization of decision making and production and the support of many small-scale, local industries.

One of the best attempts at understanding economics from the perspective of small-scale agriculturalists in the Third World is Levi and Havinden (1982). They demonstrate why many of the assumptions of Western economics are not appropriate for the situation of African farmers. Brownrigg (1985) contains a review of some economic analyses of home gardens.


1 Daly and Cobb 1989.

2 Cleveland 1990; Daly and Cobb 1989.

3 NAS 1989a, for the USA, for example.

4 Daly 1989.

5 Todaro 1985:292.

6 Pimentel and Pimentel 1979.

7 Cleveland and Soleri 1987; Cornia 1985.

8 Daly and Cobb 1989.

9 Todaro 1985:305.

10 Levi and Havinden 1982.

11 Haswell 1975; Levi and Havinden 1982.

12 Daly and Cobb 1989:49-58,145-146.

13 NAS 1986.

14 FAO 1989:96ff.

15 Berkes, et al. 1989.

16 Dixon-Mueller 1985; Folbre 1984.

17 Daly and Cobb 1989:62-94.

18 DeWalt 1985.

19 Daly and Cobb 1989:77.

20 E.g., Dewey 1981.

21 Jelliffe 1972.

22 Daly and Cobb 1989:138-139.

23 Cornia 1985.

24 Lagemann 1977:55.

25 Calculated from Cleveland, et al. 1985.

26 Cleveland and Soleri 1987.

27 Stone, et al. 1987.

28 Brownrigg 1985:113-114.

29 Yoon 1983.

30 Stoler 1979.

31 Sanyal 1986.

32 Tricaud 1987.

33 Gladwin and Butler 1984.

34 Blaylock and Gallo 1983.

35 Kleer and Wos 1988.

36 Crouch and Ward 1988.

37 Kennedy 1983.

38 Piwoz and Viteri 1985.

39 Kumar 1978:44-45.

40 Brun, et al. 1989.

41 Kumar 1978.

42 Brierly 1976.

43 Crouch and Ward 1988:67,103,216.

44 Gutman 1987.

45 Duggan 1985.

46 Duggan 1985.

47 Milimo 1985.

48 Brun, et al. 1989.

49 Barkow 1972.

50 Eskelinen 1977:40-41.

51 Scott 1976:123.

52 Duggan 1985.

53 Scott 1976:120.

54 La Rovere 1985.

55 Hammond 1966:82.

56 Eskelinen 1977:45.

57 Smale 1980:xviii,25,71.

58 Smale 1980:19.

59 Zimmerman 1982:47-53.


Most poor households in drylands need clean water, land, medical care, improved sanitation and nutrition, increased income, and control over decisions affecting their lives. An assessment helps communities organize themselves to address their needs by identifying those needs and the community’s ability to meet them. The potential for collaboration with outside organizations is also considered. Assessment of progress while a project is being implemented can help development programs reach community goals, and not be diverted to serve the special interests of a powerful, rich minority, outside development organizations, or governments.

An assessment also helps outside project workers learn enough about the local situation so that they can support community members in their own efforts. Project and field workers should understand what gardens are and what the potential contribution of gardens to improving well-being is, including the possibility that gardens may not be the best investment of time and resources. To ensure real benefits, it is important for an assessment to be as accurate as possible. So that project goals are not based on false preconceptions, the assessment has to be grounded in the values of the local people, as well as an accurate evaluation of objective factors.

4.1 Summary

An assessment gathers information about local conditions, needs, and resources and is a vital part of planning for any project. In addition, assessments are valuable for monitoring projects while in progress and for evaluating their impact after completion.

Different individuals and groups have different perspectives on local conditions and different ideas about how projects should be done. All perspectives are useful but the views of community members, especially those who will be directly affected, are most important.

Careful observation and participation in day-today activities give the field worker insights into local conditions and help to establish understanding and friendship. This includes gardening using only local resources. Existing gardens provide a wealth of information for any assessment.

Interviews are useful for assessment - careful design improves their accuracy and acceptability to those being interviewed. Reports, censuses, and other outside sources can also provide useful information. When collecting and analyzing information on climate, work, health, and availability of resources it is important to consider how these are affected by seasonality.

Patterns of food distribution and consumption, maps of community resources and landmarks, and long-term social and environmental trends are other types of information that can be useful when conducting an assessment and planning for a project.

4.2 Assessment, monitoring, and evaluation

We define a project assessment as the gathering and analysis of information for planning future activities and evaluating present and past ones. An assessment is a learning tool that helps a community organize itself to address its needs, and helps project workers understand a community. Assessment should be a part of all development projects, but collecting information takes time and money which are often scarce resources. When resources are limited, assessments must be short and narrowly focused. The larger the project area, the more money being spent, or the greater the project’s impact, the more thorough the assessment should be. In this chapter we discuss useful assessment techniques with an emphasis on information relevant to projects including gardens.

In many ways the best people to conduct an assessment are the community members themselves. They speak the local language and have a strong personal interest in any project that will follow the assessment. Yet, for some of these same reasons, when local people conduct an assessment their membership in a particular faction or kin group and their personal interests can bias the design of the assessment, the community’s response to it, and their own interpretation of it. A community has a great challenge in selecting open-minded, fair, and respected members to conduct an assessment. Where local elites have a long-established and powerful hold on the community, such as in irrigation districts in northern Pakistan, the only way to ensure an assessment reflecting the needs of the majority is to have outsiders conduct it. Perhaps the best assessment is one in which outsiders and locals are equal collaborators.

We have written this chapter about assessment as though the people doing the assessment were from outside the community, although many of the concepts and techniques are also appropriate for assessments by community members. Whoever conducts an assessment must try to be as open and objective as they can. For an outsider, the best way to begin is by observing and participating in daily activities like hauling water, preparing food, gardening, and weeding the fields. The project worker should listen, offer support, and develop trust and friendships. This makes it possible for the community to get to know the project worker’s intentions and decide if they can trust her. Similarly, the project worker can learn more about the community, which helps her focus information gathering on the most important topics. After this, formal methods (section 4.5) can be used to gather information, if necessary.

Community members usually have many questions to ask and should be encouraged to voice opinions and ideas. One way to do this is through group discussions about needs and how to solve them.1 This can begin with the group making a list of all the members’ comments about local problems. Similar comments are grouped together into categories, the cause of each category is explored by the group, and the group then decides which category or issue requires response.

The first assessment conducted before starting the project itself is sometimes called a feasibility study. Its purpose is to see whether a project is needed in an area, and whether it is possible. A baseline survey may be done as part of the feasibility study, or after it. A baseline survey documents conditions in the community before the project begins. Data from the baseline survey are what future assessments will be compared with to see if any changes have occurred.

Assessment done during a project is often referred to as monitoring. Monitoring is useful for keeping projects responsive and flexible, ensuring that the participants do not lose sight of the project goals. This is important because unforeseen situations often arise during a project. For example, project plans can be upset by transportation difficulties, personality disputes, climatic change, a sudden drop in market prices, money being spent twice as fast as planned, or men expressing an interest in gardens meant for women. Adjustments are needed so that the project continues to work toward its original goals, or the goals need to be adjusted by the community.

Post-project assessment is called evaluation.2 An evaluation determines whether a project has accomplished its stated goals by comparing conditions at the time of the evaluation to those before the project began. Evaluations can be done after the project is completed, or during the project when specific goals were scheduled to be completed. An evaluation asks the questions, “Have the goals been reached?” and “Are these long-lasting, sustainable changes?” Community opinion is a critical part of any evaluation.

Attempts have been made to establish formal guidelines for garden evaluations.3 Their basic approach has been calculating efficiencies, that is output/input or benefit/cost ratios. In the most common benefit/cost analysis this means calculating market value of garden produce and dividing by project and production costs. Indicators of nutritional status can also serve as outputs when converted to economic terms. Output/input ratios are important considerations and these guidelines can be useful for stimulating thinking about garden evaluations especially for large-scale projects. However, these guidelines tend to be narrowly focused and do not take into account the social and ecological complexity of gardens or communities. In addition, the cost of collecting the detailed quantitative data they require would be far too expensive except for the largest projects. For most garden projects of the kind we recommend, based on indigenous knowledge and local resources with minimal external inputs and project costs, an alternative to formal benefit/cost analysis might be to let the gardeners themselves calculate benefit/cost ratios. They will do this very quickly, and the results will be obvious as evidenced by whether or not project participants continue to garden, or continue the changes recommended by the project. Evaluation efforts could then focus on whether changes promoted by the project meet overall goals of improving well-being.

Evaluation findings are compared with project goals and for change, in comparison with the baseline survey. For example, if a project goal was to improve the nutrition of weaning-age children by encouraging households to grow nutritious weaning-food ingredients in gardens, the evaluation should focus on those children, their diets and nutritional status, and the gardens.

Evaluations should be sensitive to unanticipated positive and negative effects of the project. For instance, was the garden produce sold at the market instead of being used for weaning foods? Another evaluation months or years later will help determine if the project created long-lasting changes.

Evaluations can shed light on the relationship between different project goals, and can provide guidelines for future projects. For example, we visited a one-and-one-half-year project in rural Egypt which was devoted to starting household gardens to improve nutrition. Twenty gardens were established during the project and one year later only a few of those were still in existence. Those gardens were in the households of wealthy community members, some of whom hired servants to do the gardening. The evaluation showed that the number of households who adopted the project’s gardening advice was low, and even more importantly, showed which households continued to garden and why. The project defined household gardens as being near the house, and most poor households were not interested as they did not have spare land near their houses in the densely populated village.


It is important for anyone involved in an assessment to realize that there is no such thing as a completely “objective” or “impartial” assessment. No matter how objective or “scientific” an assessment is, it will always reflect the biases and values of those who conduct and interpret it. This is true because science itself is embedded within the cultural values of society. A “good” assessment is one that honestly acknowledges these biases and values, and strives to fairly reflect the interests of the community, while at the same time being as objective as possible.

4.3.1 Assessment and Collaboration

Meetings of existing community groups such as women’s groups or village elders can be a good place to announce and discuss a survey. When community members and leaders have been involved in the assessment from the beginning and have helped design the survey, it will be easier to obtain the cooperation of all the households included.

Project field workers should be sensitive to the relationship between the community and those identified as leaders. Leaders are often respected and recognized authorities in their communities, especially if they hold traditional positions. But in some cases leaders may not represent their community and are disliked or mistrusted. Perhaps the most extreme examples of this are the “leaders” created by colonial powers to implement their policies among local populations. This has occurred all over the world. The goals of such figureheads do not reflect the best interests of the community and these “leaders” are not trusted. Field workers and projects that align themselves with such leaders will have a difficult time being accepted and working effectively with the community.

4.3.2 Representativeness

Individuals and groups within a community often have different values, needs, and interests. Assessments should be representative, that is, they should include households from all segments of the community, such as different religious and ethnic groups, castes, economic levels, occupations, and geographic locations. It is also important to make sure that the needs of different individuals within the household are represented in the assessment. The different members of a household, including men and women, adults and children, or in-laws and blood relatives, often have very different responsibilities and power. A representative assessment may require talking to household women, not just the male “head of household,” and making special inquiries about children, the handicapped, and the elderly. Cooperatives, community elders, local clinics, traditional healers, and women’s, farmers’ and students’ organizations are examples of specialized community groups whose ideas are valuable for a representative assessment.

Whenever possible people should speak for themselves. There are always some people who are easier to talk to than others and in some cases certain groups of people may be less accessible or less accustomed to having their viewpoint valued. However, it is still important for their voices to be heard, and not have them represented by the opinions of other people, no matter how good those other people’s intentions are.

4.3.3 Insiders and Outsiders

There can also be significant differences, as well as agreement, between the perspectives of local people and outsiders, such as project field workers. Either way, discussion helps insiders and outsiders understand each other and come to an agreement on the community’s most pressing needs and ways of addressing them. For example, local people may have many uses for the “weeds” growing in their gardens, while an outsider may only see these plants as a factor causing decreased garden production. On the other hand, an outsider may be able to see needs of which the local people are not aware, and help them find ways to meet those needs. For example, an assessment that includes testing of the local water supply may find that it contains a lot of disease-causing bacteria, very likely responsible for much illness and some deaths in the community. While local people will recognize the illness as a problem, they may attribute it to other causes. In this case there must be discussion with the community explaining the connection between their problem and its cause, and addressing their questions and concerns. A project should never proceed without community understanding, support, and participation.

4.3.4 Participant Observation

Living, eating, working, talking, and relaxing with people is the best way to gain some insight into their world as they perceive it. This participant observation is a vital part of any assessment and includes conversation and informal interviewing, as well as observations of physical surroundings, people, and activities.4 Relaxed social settings encourage candid and open discussions. Feelings of goodwill, trust, and mutual respect, so essential in community development work, are established through this sort of interaction.

Good observation involves clearing the mind as much as possible of preconceptions and expectations, focusing on the environment, and asking questions about what is seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt. Making brief notes in the field and later expanding on them may help improve the powers of observation. However, it is very important not to let note-taking in the field come between the field worker and the people she is working with. If people seem uncomfortable or offended, it is wise to stop taking notes.

We feel very strongly that the first thing any garden project field worker should do is try to grow a garden just as the people in the community do. If there are no local gardens then the field worker’s garden should use only resources that are readily available to local households. By doing this she gains an understanding of gardening conditions in the area, including local resources, skills, and problems. She also demonstrates that local people are the focus of the project and that she recognizes their skills and knowledge. Only then will she begin to appreciate local conditions and be able to work with gardeners or those interested in gardening to support and improve gardening in the community.

An excellent way to start understanding indigenous gardens is by making a list or catalog of local garden plants. Such a catalog should include a sample or drawing for identification, the local name, how the plant is grown, and how it is used. These catalogs are also very useful for learning about indigenous knowledge regarding other topics including soils (section 9.2.1), water, garden pests and diseases, and food.

4.3.5 Gardens for Whom?

Project objectives can be greatly influenced by the assumptions of the development organization.5 Such assumptions may not be stated explicitly and project workers are often unaware of them. However, these assumptions affect how needs are identified and how they are addressed. For example, if a development agency assumes that the solution to vitamin A and C deficiencies is increased production of dark green leafy vegetables (DGLVs), they may overlook important factors such as food preparation, distribution, and consumption. Among poor households the extra produce may be sold to obtain money for debt payments, and so will not contribute to improving household nutrition.

Some agencies and people working for them may be unwilling to endorse an assessment that excludes them from future project activities. For example, an agency specializing in irrigation may be reluctant to recognize an assessment that indicates improved health care and nutrition education as the priorities. Agencies and project workers must thoughtfully examine their assumptions to make sure that these do not interfere with the goal of improving people’s well-being.

When answering strangers’ questions, many of us tend to give the answers we think the interviewer expects. This is also a common problem when outsiders talk to people about gardens. The local people being interviewed may assume that outsiders are only interested in industrial-style gardens, an accurate assumption based on the approach taken by many garden projects (section 1.2). We have visited villages where residents had cultivated fruits and vegetables for their households for many years. However, local extension agents believed there were no gardens and went to great efforts to persuade the residents to learn less appropriate, industrial gardening methods6 (Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1 Assumptions About What Gardens are Have a Big Effect on Garden Projects

A major reason for these problems is that the Western, industrial-style garden has come to dominate the definition of gardens in development. Emphasizing a functional definition of gardens as we describe in section 1.1 can help overcome this stereotype. Defining gardens can be further complicated by problems of translation. In Egypt we found that some bureaucrats and nutritionists used an Arabic term for gardens which meant formal pleasure gardens. Obviously poor villagers did not have anything that would fit that description, and an interview using this word to ask if people had gardens would get “no” for an answer. However, many poor households do cultivate small quantities of fruits and vegetables for their own consumption, fitting our functional definition of gardens.

4.4 What do existing gardens tell us?

The first and most important step in assessing the need for gardens is understanding how gardens function in the households that already have them, why those households have gardens, and why other households do not have them. Answers will come through keen observation, patient listening, and by asking relevant questions in conversation and formal interviews. Nothing should be assumed. How the gardens work, and how they contribute to the household and community should be investigated. If there are no gardens in the community the project worker must find out why. Local gardening, or lack of it, can be compared with gardening in nearby communities, or even in more distant ones, if they are similar to the one being assessed.

Not only is understanding existing gardens an important first step when considering a project in a community, it is also essential throughout the process of assessment and project implementation. At each step, and for every topic, project workers need to ask questions like, “How is this task accomplished in existing gardens?” and “Do existing gardens meet this need or address this problem?” (Box 4.1).


A survey is a tool for assessment in which information on the same topics is recorded for each household, garden, or other unit in the sample (section 4.5.3 discusses samples). Information can be gathered by observation or an interview, which can be either formal or informal. When the questions are numerous or complicated, or a large number of people are to be interviewed, a formal survey is better. Formal interviews should only be done after participant observation has established a good relationship between field workers and the community, and informal surveys have identified topics on which more information is needed. In this section we focus on formal surveys.

Box 4.1
Useful Information from Existing Gardens

The following questions about existing gardens can be answered by casual observations and conversations, as well as with formal surveys or interviews.

· Which households are gardening? Do they belong to a particular social, economic, ethnic or other group?

· Where are these households? Are their gardens next to their houses, in their fields, along canals, in a community garden area?

· Who controls access to land and water for gardening?

· What are the age and sex of household members who garden the most?

· How long have they been gardening?

· How much time do they spend gardening? Does this differ by age or sex?

· What is the daily and seasonal garden schedule?

· How large are the gardens? Is there a relationship between household size and garden size?

· What is grown and when? Are there differences between wet and dry season gardens?

· Where do the planting materials (seeds, cuttings, etc.) come from?

· What other resources are used? Where do they come from?

· What foods from the garden are eaten? By whom? How are the foods prepared?

· Is any produce sold, traded or given as gifts? By whom?

· Who controls the income? What do they use it for?

The value of a formal interview is that it provides a structured, standard format for making observations and asking questions. Because of this the information gathered can be summarized, subgroups identified, and comparisons made between them. For example, if information about individuals’ land resources is gathered for a community, women’s access to land can be compared with men’s and the implications discussed. In some parts of Mali where men have easy access to land for onion gardening but women do not, the lucrative business of onion marketing is not available to most women.

Formal interviews should be accurate and representative of various groups in the community. It is better to collect a small amount of useful, good-quality information rather than a large amount of information that is difficult to analyze or use because of its size and inaccuracies. The interview should be kept short (no more than one page long, at least for the first survey) and should be designed to obtain practical information for the assessment and the project (Figure 4.2). Another reason to keep interviews short is because people are busy and long interviews are tiring and irritating. The longer the interview, the less likely the interviewee will be to give accurate, thoughtful answers. It also becomes less likely that they will want to talk with the interviewer again, let alone consent to another interview in the future.

The following steps for a survey using a formal interview will be briefly discussed: composing questions, translating and back-translating, sample size and selection, pretesting, administering the interview, and coding, checking, and analyzing.

Figure 4.2 A Formal Interview

4.5.1 Composing Questions

There are several types of questions that can be used for a formal interview:

· Yes/no questions, for example, “Do you have a garden?”

· Preceded selection of responses, for example, “During which month does the household have the least food?” 1 = January, 2 = February,....12 = December.

· Open-ended questions which may prompt a long, unstructured response, such as, “Why do you think people in this village do not have gardens?”

Yes/no questions are easiest to obtain answers for, and open-ended questions the hardest. Answers to yes/no or preceded questions can be summarized or coded along one margin of the questionnaire form. Coding makes it easier and quicker to tabulate and analyze the information. All questions should be as clear as possible, and should not be offensive. For example, it is considered rude in northern Ghana to ask how much food a household has stored, or to ask too many details about a person’s health. All cultures have such areas of sensitivity. In the United States it is considered rude to ask people how much money they make. Answers to such questions may not be accurate, and these types of questions may make the respondent reluctant to answer other questions.

Questions should be composed so that a bias or expectation on the part of the interviewer does not interfere with the response. For example, using male pronouns (he, his) to refer to gardeners may indicate to the person being interviewed that the interviewer is not interested in knowing about women gardeners, or vice versa. Similarly, expressing an interest in, and approval of, local crops encourages people to discuss them, and not just the new commercial varieties being sold in the area. Each question needs to be reviewed for clarity and relevance. Can the question be understood? Will the answers provide information that will help make decisions about household gardens?

4.5.2 Translating and Back-Translating

If the interview will be given in a language other than the one it was composed in, several people should translate it independently, and their results should be compared to eliminate effects of personal biases and limitations in language skill. A separate set of people should then translate the interview back into the original language to make sure that the original meaning has not changed. This is called back-translating. For example:

Translation: a) English - > b) Hausa
Back-translation: b) Hausa - > c) English

Do a and c match? The wording should be corrected and adjusted until they do. Failure to back-translate is the cause of much inaccurate information being gathered.

4.5.3 Choosing a Sample

Deciding on which people are to be interviewed depends on the specific purpose of the garden project being considered. A population is the whole group of people that the survey is about. For example, the population could be all households in a community or neighborhood, or a particular category of people such as all women of child-bearing age in the district of Kowanga. When it is not possible to interview everyone or every household in a population a sample or subgroup representative of that population is selected.

The size of a sample will depend on a number of factors. Limited project time and resources often have a big effect on the size of the sample taken. A useful principle to keep in mind is that the larger the total population, the smaller the proportion of the population included in the sample needs to be for obtaining accurate, representative information. For example, in a community of 3,000 households, a 10% sample would be 300 households, enough to obtain information that is not dominated by the extreme or unusual responses of just a few households. If 150 households in the sample (i.e., 50%) say they are interested in market gardening it is said that 50% of the population may be interested in market gardening.

However, in a community of 20 households, a 10% sample would be only 2 households and the findings could be easily skewed by the opinions or experience of 1 household. For example, if only 1 household said they were interested in market gardening this would be 50% of the sample. A sample of 50% or even 100% of this community would provide much more representative information. In order to be confident that the results of the sample can be legitimately applied to the whole population, it is important to have an adequate sample size. Sampling is a complex topic, and anyone who is planning on conducting a large survey should consult with an experienced statistician (Box 4.2).

Box 4.2
Statistics and Probability

Statistics has two broad functions.7 The first is to describe something by summarizing information about it. This helps us to see important characteristics and makes the information more usable. Giving the percentages of households in a village survey that eat fresh fruit once a day, once a week, and less than once a week is an example of how statistics can be used to describe something.

The second function of statistics is inductive. That is, it allows us to make generalizations based on a sample or to compare two groups to see if they are really different in regard to the characteristic we are interested in, or if they can be considered as the same. Surveys of a whole community provide data that can be used to describe the community. If only a sample of the community is surveyed, statistical tests can be used to decide what inferences can be made about the whole population based on the sample. If comparisons are being made between different samples from groups, for example, households with and households without gardens, then statistics can be used to decide if any differences between the groups are significant, that is whether they can be accepted as real differences, or whether they are due to chance and do not reflect differences between the groups from which the samples are drawn.

Inductive statistics depends on the theory of probability, which allows us to tell whether the patterns being observed in the data occur by chance, or whether they are “really” there, that is, whether they are significant. (Section 11.4.1 gives an example of the use of probability in predicting rainfall.)

A random sample is one in which all members of the population have an equal opportunity to be selected. This ensures that the resulting sample will be representative of the range of persons or households in the area being sampled. For example, a sample chosen from one location in a village will not be representative of the whole village if residence in a community is itself nonrandom. That is, the section of the community a person lives in may depend on her social status, economic level, caste, or ethnic group. These different groups within the community may be distributed according to features like roads, schools, markets, mosques, shrines, pumps, or the best garden land.

An easy way of selecting a random sample is to give each household or person in the population a consecutive number, beginning with “1,” writing each number on a slip of paper, folding the slip in half, placing all the slips in a container, mixing them up, and drawing out the slips one at a time without looking at them until the desired sample size is reached (Figure 4.3).

Random samples may not be appropriate in communities with more than one distinct economic, cultural, or ethnic group. In this case a stratified sample, one which intentionally selects a specific number of representatives of different groups, is better. A stratified sample can be selected in two ways. Let us say a survey is being done on a sample of 100 households in a community where 25% of the households are Moslem and the rest follow local religious practices. In this case a proportional stratified sample would randomly select 25 households from the Moslem part of the community and randomly select 75 households from the non-Moslem part of the community. This provides a more representative sample than random sampling for a population composed of distinct subgroups.

If comparing the differences and special needs of each subgroup is a goal of the survey, then a disproportional stratified sample can be used, selecting 50 households from each subgroup. For example, in parts of Burkina Faso, villages may have both Moslem and non-Moslem residents. This religious difference may be reflected in social differences that have a significant effect on household income and food supply.8 Since Moslem women cannot make or sell sorghum beer due to religious prohibitions on alcohol, other income-earning activities including gardening may be of greater importance to those women than to their non-Moslem neighbors.

It is a good idea when selecting a sample to make it somewhat larger than will actually be needed, so that if some people or households do not participate for any reason, they can be easily replaced by others. In addition, some extra people or households should be selected to use when pretesting the survey.

4.5.4 Pretesting

Before the interview is given, it should be pretested with people from the same population who are similar to those in the sample. Pretesting identifies problems with the interview - if questions are unclear or inappropriate, or if the interview is too long it can be changed before giving it to the sample.

Figure 4.3 Selecting a Random Sample

4.5.5 Conducting the Interview

Whether they are community members or not, interviewers should be able to listen patiently, have a good sense of humor, respect those being interviewed, be interested in the project, and have neat handwriting.

Even when an assessment is being carried out in collaboration with the community, many may not have participated directly in the planning. Therefore, the first step when conducting interviews is to discuss the purpose directly with those being interviewed. This should be done before each interview and any questions should be answered at that time. The confidentiality of interview responses should be explained and maintained at all times. Each person or household interviewed can be given a code number and only that number needs to appear on the form. The key to the code should be kept in a safe place, separate from the interview forms.

The interview should be timed to least interfere with the schedules of those being interviewed. Every effort should be made to minimize the disruption caused by the interview and to show how it will contribute to improving the interviewees’ situation. If this is not done people will be reluctant to be interviewed and some may refuse. If someone cannot be convinced to participate in a survey they should never be forced to do so. Instead, another person or household should be selected from the population.

When conducting interviews, the values of the community and its members should be respected. For example, in many Moslem countries permission of the male household head is required before interviewing women. This permission may only be granted if the interviewer is a woman, if the interview is conducted in the presence of a male household member, or both. It may be culturally appropriate to offer a gift when visiting a household. In northern Ghana we gave kulikuli (fried peanut balls) to children and kola nuts to adults.

4.5.6 Coding, Checking, and Analyzing

Finished questionnaires should be reviewed as soon as possible after completing the interview. This means coding all answers that can be coded, and checking for any obvious errors, misunderstandings, or missed questions. Returning to check an answer with an interviewee should be done as soon after the interview as possible.

Tabulating the information is one of the simplest methods of analysis. It involves counting the number in the sample with one response to a given question and comparing it to the number with different responses, often expressed as percentages. For example, a sample of 30 mothers of young children were interviewed to discover if they used DGLVs in weaning foods. Twelve said they did and 18 said they did not. These results showed that 40% (12/30) of the mothers in the sample used DGLVs in weaning foods and 60% (18/30) did not. More sophisticated analyses of the data can be made, and someone experienced in statistics should always be involved (Box 4.2, section 4.5.3).

The survey results should answer the questions with which the community and the field worker started. These results are then the basis for further discussion and, combined with any other information gathered, will help the community and field worker decide what actions they will take, and whether gardens will be included in a project.

4.6 Seasonality

The marked seasons that characterize drylands mean that availability of resources changes through the yearly cycle. In an assessment it is very important to find out how the situation differs from season to season. For example, changes in the availability of water have a big effect on the need for, and supply of, food and income. In many drylands, food is in shortest supply during the rainy season before the harvest. This is also a time of increased demand for agricultural labor, and water-borne diseases such as malaria are common.

Gardens also change with the seasons. For example, rainy season gardens may be located near the home compound, while in the dry season they are grown in dry streams and depressions where soil moisture is highest. Cool season crops can differ substantially from those grown in the same garden during the warm season.

A good way to understand seasonality is to make an annual calendar showing variations through the year. Figure 4.4 is an example of an annual calendar for northeast Ghana. It is best to begin by quickly gathering preliminary information, entering it on the calendar, then deciding what additional information is needed (Box 4.3). This is a good safeguard against wasting time making a calendar much too elaborate for practical use. A number of smaller calendar forms can be used for taking notes, and the information can be put together later on a larger sheet of paper.

Scales on the vertical axis of the calendar can be absolute values, for example, 0-300 mm (0-12 in) of rain, or total household income, for example, 0-500 rupees/month. Or the vertical axis may illustrate relative values such as no rain, some rain, much rain, or no income, less income than needed for basic needs, or more income than required for basic needs. Estimates of a probable range of values are better than nothing. As more information is gathered these estimates can be adjusted.

As the project becomes more focused, calendars addressing specific people or crops can be made. For example, if women are interested in expanding gardening into the hungry season a calendar of women’s activities could be created. This would help field workers understand and discuss the idea with local women.

Figure 4.4 An Annual Calendar for Northeast Ghana

Box 4.3
Possible Topics for an Annual Calendar


· Rainfall
· Temperature
· Availability of water for irrigation
· Major agricultural pests and diseases
· Availability of material for fencing, shades, trellises, mulches
· Availability of soil amendments: manure, sand, compost
· Availability of land, as influenced by cropping pattern


(These can then be divided into women’s and men’s activities)

· Field crops: sowing, weeding, pest management, harvesting, processing
· Other food-producing work: gardening, gathering, hunting, fishing
· Wage labor
· Animal herding, including seasonal migrations
· Market activity
· Labor migration
· Ceremonial activities
· School attendance


· Actual or potential availability of garden foods
· Availability of staple foods
· Availability of wild, gathered foods
· Availability of market foods
· Hungry season
· Disease incidence


· Actual or potential availability of garden produce for marketing
· Shortages of income for the household and individual members
· Path and road conditions
· Availability of transport
· Market demand for garden produce

4.7 Food distribution and consumption

Food supply and consumption patterns offer insights into nutritional needs. Market surveys listing the kind, quantity, and cost of foods in the market at different times of year can be done quite easily and are important for understanding local food supplies and for assessing the potential for marketing garden produce. However, they are just part of the food system and should never be used by themselves as indicators of nutritional status. Food in the market is often not available to those who need it most because they cannot afford to buy it. In dryland West Africa we have seen markets full of food while villagers a few kilometers away were hungry but unable to translate their needs into buying power. If they could, the markets would have soon been emptied.

Eating with a household gives insights into what they eat, how food is prepared, and how it is distributed. However, the field worker is often considered an honored guest and, at least the first few times, larger quantities and more special foods may be served (Figure 4.5). These are unusual circumstances and should not be used in an assessment. In addition, the field worker must be careful not to overburden the household which may feel obliged to provide these special meals.

Understanding local diets and nutritional needs means finding out what people eat, how often they eat it, and how this changes at different times of the year. Interviewing a sample of households to find out their source for major types of foods at different times of year can help a field worker understand the seasonality of diets in the community. Adding this information to the annual calendar (section 4.6) will show where dietary change fits in with other seasonal fluctuations.

Collecting information on the frequency with which different foods are eaten, how they are prepared, and who eats them gives a rough idea of what nutrients might be lacking in the diet at different times of the year. This does not provide precise figures on nutrient deficits, or the quantity of nutrients needed to supplement the present diet, but it can give ideas for the kinds of crops to encourage in gardens.

Often the person responsible for preparing the food will be able to provide the most reliable information for a food frequency survey. Useful questions include, “What do the people in your house eat in the morning?” (or during the day and in the evening) “Are there special days when the quantities of foods eaten are different?” and “How often do people in your household eat fruits?” (or vegetables, cereal and root staples, legumes, dairy foods, nuts and seeds, meats, and fish). The foods eaten and the ways they are prepared should be noted. It is very important to find out how this information varies for different people in the household.

Figure 4.5 Often Field Workers are Served Special Meals

Some important reasons why people have different diets and eating habits are because of individual preferences, cultural values, and geographic locations. Beliefs or customs about foods may have originated for reasons of health, to ensure distribution of valuable foods, because of local beliefs about the cause of illness, or for other reasons. Special diets that may affect health are often prescribed during sickness, pregnancy, and lactation. Some are beneficial, but others are harmful. Working with people to support their healthful beliefs about food and discussing why some beliefs can be harmful is a difficult process. Werner and Bower discuss ideas of how to do this.9

The following patterns in data gathered on food will help to understand the local nutritional situation:

· Patterns of food supply and consumption as they vary between rainy and dry, warm and cool seasons.

· Nutritional quality of the most common meals (Chapters 2 and 15).

· The variety of foods: staples, legumes, fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat.

· Sources of produced and purchased foods: field, garden, gathered, market, friends or relatives, food aid.

· Social and economic access to food: in the community (by class, caste, ethnicity, religion, other group), in the household (by age, sex, relation).

4.8 Maps

Making a sample map of an area with community members is a good way to become familiar with the location of natural and social resources. Most available maps will probably be on too small a scale to be useful for village-level information. Maps on a scale of about 1:50,000 (1 cm = 0.5 km or 1 in = 0.8 mi) are helpful guides for making larger scale maps of areas between 10 km2 and 50 km2. However, a simple map can be drawn easily by quickly making a preliminary sketch, and then deciding what, if any, additional information is needed. Later the location of resources can be added. Box 4.4 lists some useful information that can be shown on maps. Figure 4.6 is an example of a village sketch map helpful when doing an assessment.

Box 4.4
Useful Information that can be Shown on Maps

· Compass directions or orientation to major landmarks
· Water sources: rivers, streams, wells, pumps, springs, qanats
· Forests, quarries, clay pits, and other sources of garden building materials
· Prevailing winds (may differ with season)
· Residences, including those of local leaders
· Agricultural lands, including gardens and fields
· Places where wild foods are gathered
· Grazing areas, animal enclosures, sources of manure
· Medical resources: local healers, midwives, clinics
· Roads, markets, stores
· Sacred and ceremonial areas
· Seasonally flooded areas

4.9 Long-term trends

Identifying and understanding long-term trends in an assessment helps to ensure that changes made by the project will continue into the future. Awareness of these trends helps the community and its projects foresee and plan for changes.

For example, a common trend in the rural Third World is environmental degradation. In many regions deforestation is a serious problem which leads to soil erosion and desertification. The social implications of deforestation are equally serious and include big increases in time and energy spent collecting fuel wood, destruction of agricultural lands and their productivity, and loss of wild food sources for people and their animals. Frequently women bear most of the increased work burden because they are often responsible for providing their households with both fuel and wild, gathered foods.

Overall this trend may show the need to redistribute resources, lower consumption by some, and find sources of energy and income that will not destroy local resources. In terms of garden projects this may mean people have less time and energy for gardening. However, it could also mean gardens will be increasingly important as a source of fruits and vegetables, and income for purchasing fuel.

Other long-term trends that affect dryland community development efforts, including gardens, are dropping water tables, soil salinization, changes in land tenure such as increasing privatization, out-migration of young people, and changing eating patterns.

4.10 Outside sources

For many areas information has already been collected that can be useful for an assessment. Frequently this information may be difficult to obtain, for example because it is only available in the capital city, or from people or organizations outside the country. Even so, finding it may be worth the effort, and may save time and resources. As with all other information gathered for an assessment, printed or published information must be assessed for representativeness, accuracy, and objectivity. Box 4.5 lists some types of outside information useful for assessment, and possible sources of that information.

4.11 Resources

Many resources about assessments and how to do them are long lists of “Questions to ask.” These can stimulate thinking, but too often discussion of how to go about actually doing the assessment and what to do with the information is lacking. To some extent this is unavoidable because methods and questions must be tailored each time to meet the special circumstances of each community and project.

Figure 4.6 A Sample Sketch Map

Box 4.5
Outside Information


· Census reports of both population and agriculture
· Medical and nutritional surveys
· Soil surveys
· Surface and groundwater surveys
· Anthropological, historical, geographical reports
· Botanical surveys
· Agricultural experiment station reports
· Research papers by college and university students
· Project and planning documents and reports


· Local and national clinics, health posts, hospitals

· Universities that have carried out local research

· Local, regional and national government departments of agriculture, health, nutrition, community development, census

· Libraries

· People who have previously worked in the area

· Local or international development organizations like ILIEA, Hesperian Foundation, Cultural Survival, and many others (Chapter 19 has brief descriptions of these and other organizations.)

One of the best books to read when preparing to do an assessment is Rural Development: Putting the Last First (Chambers 1983). This is an easy-to-read discussion of why and how many development activities have tended to overlook those most in need. It also gives some brief suggestions of ways to overcome this problem in projects and project assessments.

We think the best outline for assessment is by David Werner and Bill Bower in their book Helping Health Workers Learn (1982). This is an excellent, inspiring book full of information useful for anyone working in community development. Werner and Bower constantly emphasize practical methods that support local control, while keeping in mind the goal of improved well-being for those most in need. The following sections are especially helpful for assessments: Chapter 6, “Learning and Working with the Community;” Chapter 7, “Helping People Look at Their Customs and Beliefs;” and the discussion of evaluations in Chapter 9, “Examinations and Evaluation as a Learning Process.”

Anthropologists and other social science field workers have been struggling with the best ways to gather and use data from local communities for a long time. Spradley’s books on participant observation (1980) and ethnographic interviewing (1979) are good, practical introductions which emphasize the need to understand the local situation from the people’s point of view, and to do research with, and in the best interests of, local people. Bernard (1988) has published a helpful handbook on field methods in cultural anthropology, emphasizing quantitative measurement.

Part three, “Field Methodologies,” in OXFAM’s The Field Directors’ Handbook (Pratt and Boyden 1985) provides a general introduction to assessment at the program level.


1 Bunch 1982:61-63.

2 Werner and Bower 1982:9-18 - 9-22.

3 Gr al. 1989; O’Brien-Place 1987.

4 Spradley 1980.

5 Pacey and Payne 1985:210-213.

6 E.g., Cleveland 1986.

7 Blalock 1972:3-8.

8 Saul 1981.

9 Werner and Bower 1982: Chapter 7.