A home garden refers to the traditional land use system around a homestead, where several species of plants are grown and maintained by the household members and their products are primarily intended for the family consumption. Several species of plants from annual to perennial, root crops to climbers are used in home garden. The home garden provides a bridge between the social and biological, linking cultivated species and natural ecosystems, combining, and conserving species diversity and genetic diversity.
The home garden is known as Ghar Bagaincha in Nepali. The term “home garden” is often considered synonymous to the kitchen garden. However, they differ in terms of function, size, diversity, composition and features. In Nepal, 72% of households have home gardens of an area 2-11% of the total land holdings. Because of their small size, the government has never identified home gardens as an important unit of food production and it thereby remains neglected from research and development. Traditionally home gardens are an important source of quality food and nutrition for the rural poor and, therefore, are important contributors to the food security and livelihoods of farming communities in Nepal. They are typically cultivated with a mixture of annual and perennial plants that can be harvested on a daily or seasonal basis. Home gardens, with their intensive and multiple uses, provide a safety net for households when food is scarce. These gardens are not only important sources of food, fodder, fuel, medicines, spices, herbs, flowers, construction materials and income in many countries. Nepalese home gardens are dynamic in their evolution, composition and uses. Home gardens has important role in;
• Food security, nutrition and a cash income
• Fodder, firewood and timber
• Spices, herbs and medicinal plants
• Green manures and pesticide crops
• Cultural and religious uses
Home gardens are common in many rural areas of Nepal. They usually have a well defined structure with fodder and fruit trees predominant at the periphery of homestead. Moving inwards, the canopy is progressively reduced by planting vegetable and arable crops. Home gardens are considered to be the richest in species diversity per unit area. Species richness of home gardens within a region is
influenced by homestead size, structure, climatic conditions, market and socio-cultural forces. In middle hill areas of Nepal, more than 75% of home gardens have 21 to 50 diverse species per household, whereas the drier conditions of Gulmi have11-40 species. In Nepalese home gardens, richness of home garden species can be seen in the following order: vegetable, fruits, spices, fodder, medicinal, ornamental and other species.
The contribution of home gardens to the household food supply is significant in rural and peri-urban areas of Nepal. Although home gardens occupy a very small proportion of the total land holdings of the family in Nepal, they are rich in biodiversity (up to 87 species are recorded). Home gardens are a major source of vegetable and fruit supplies for the family,60% of the requirements are fulfilled by home gardens. Nepalese home gardens are largely vegetable based 37-48% of the total species planted in home gardens, with fruits, fodder, medicinal and ornamental plants. Home gardens have their own management systems and their production systems are mostly organic-based, with the maximum utilization of locally available resources. Mainly, those plant species with medicinal values are domesticated in the hills and mountains whereas in the Terai, fruits and vegetable species predominate. At least 4-8 percent of the food consumed by the poor comes from uncultivated sources in Nepal and supplement food requirement during periods of food scarcity.
Home garden and its importance
Depending upon family requirements, climatic conditions and geographical features, plant species and types; and trees are cultivated to harvest the yield round the year. Similarly, poultry, fishes, honeybees and cattle or goats or pigs are raised to meet family requirements throughout the year. Fodder, green manure, botanical pesticides; and the plants of medicinal and religious value are also cultivated in home garden.
- Home garden as a source of nutrition:
The fruits and vegetables contribute to a balanced diet by providing not only energy-rich food but also supply of vital protective nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Comparatively vegetables are the cheapest source of nutritious food. Fish and dairy products, from home gardens, are good sources of proteins Fresh fruits and vegetables provide us carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, mineral, fats which are essential to our body. Hence, home garden can provide nutritious and balanced diet to the family that makes the farm families healthy and strong.
- Home garden as a means of food security:
Sustainable food security involves strengthening the livelihood security of all members within a household by ensuring both physical and economic access to balanced diet including the needed micronutrient, safe drinking water, environmental sanitation. Mountain and hill areas are facing severe food deficit though there is availability of cereals in terai region; mainly due to lack of transport facility. In such cases home garden can play vital role to meet food security.
- Home gardens as a source of income
Along with nutrition supply and food security, home garden is a source of income. The surplus cereals and vegetable, livestock, poultry, fish, honey can be sold in local market. Due to integration of different agriculture components in home garden, the productivity of each component increases stability in income. In the rural and remote areas it plays an important role considerable role in providing additional job and income.
- Home garden as a practice of conservation of agro-biodiversity
Agriculture is the mainstay of Nepalese economy and displays a high level of diversity of biological resources and traditional knowledge based farming system. An estimate indicates that over 500 plants species are edible, out of which nearly 200 species are cultivated. In most of the home gardens, farmers use locally available diversified species to fulfil their various demands of food supplies, energy and so on.
- Home garden as a means of socio-cultural expression
Nepal has diverse socio- cultural and ethnic groups with various religious and cultural values. From ancient time the Nepalese people have been practicing the culture of planting trees and flowers around their homestead that are used for religious and cultural ceremonies like birth, marriage, worshiping, death etc There are other examples of offering animals like chicken, goat, fish, which can be, fulfilled from the home garden. Home gardens play a vital role in meeting socio- cultural requirement in the Nepalese context.
- Home gardens help to reduce environmental pollution and control soil erosion
The different kinds of plants that are grown in the home-garden contribute in absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen in the environment. In slopping lands, it helps in conserving the soil and water. Moreover, Home gardens also support in recycling the household organic waste.
- Home garden as a contributor to medicinal and aesthetic value
The various kinds of trees and plants in and around the homestead of farming families carry high medicinal and aesthetic value. The use of “Ayurvedic medicine” for treatment of various diseases is an old practice of Nepalese people and to meet this purpose, plants having medicinal value are planted in the home garden. For example holly basil, Neem (Azadirachta indica), Bojho (Acorus calamus), ginger, garlic, etc. have high medicinal value and they are commonly found in almost every home gardens.
- Home gardens in inter linkage of components in Nepalese farming system
A small vegetable plot, a few fruits trees, 1-2 dairy cattle, goats, pigs, hens, a fish pond, bee hives (1-2), fodders trees and some ornamental plants are major components of Nepalese home garden. With combination of this type of integration, household get their daily requirements and the productivity of every component increases through nutrient cycle.