Panchayat Raj institutions take up the MSSRF home nutri-gardens concept

Wayanad is recognized as an aspirational district by NITI Aayog, and has the highest concentration of tribal population in Kerala – 17.4% (Census, 2011). Agrarian tribes like the Kurichiya and Kuruma cultivate traditional varieties of rice, roots and tubers in small landholdings, while the landless tribes (Paniya and Adiyas) gather wild edibles from their surroundings or forest peripheries; they also work as wage labour. The Kattunaikka and the Urali tribe communities depend on forest resources for their survival. Tribal and rural populations, particularly women and children, face multiple nutrition and health problems because they are poor, and have little access to markets. Also, they suffer the consequences of the deteriorating forest environment leading up to insufficient diet diversity (Girigan et al 2016; NFHS, 2005-06, 2015-16 and 2019-21).

Availability of different foods at the household levels is an essential step to better nutrition for poor communities. The Food Security Act 2013 does provide access to staples through Public Distribution System (PDS), however, several populations lack access to and availability of micronutrient-dense foods.

Kerala faces two challenges from the food and nutrition security standpoint:

  1. The erosion of biodiversity from homesteads and farmlands (Kumar 2006; Girigan and Manjula 2018); and,
  2. Declining area under food crops (GoK, 2016).

Raghu et al 2014 shows that imbalanced diets — when leafy greens, other vegetables, pulses, fruits, milk/milk products are not eaten regularly — contribute to poor nutrition in Wayanad. The communities tend to eat leafy greens, vegetables, pulses, legumes, and fruits in lesser quantities than the recommended dietary intake.

Food intake survey results (Adapted from Raghu et al., 2014)
Food intake survey results (Adapted from Raghu et al., 2014)

These findings encouraged MSSRF to design a customised ‘nutri-garden’ intervention to ensure sufficient supply of native leafy greens, other vegetables, pulses and fruits (also eggs and meat with backyard poultry where possible) for rural and tribal communities in Wayanad district. Based on the type of household, their food preferences, and most importantly their food and nutritional issues, customised models of nutri-gardens were developed with the communities.

Outcomes – From 2005 till date, MSSRF established more than 10,000 nutri-gardens in rural and tribal homes across Wayanad with various combinations of crops, poultry and fishery. An impact study shows that families eat more of leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, etc., because of their home gardens provide the foods (Girigan et al., 2016).

Home nutri-gardens impact assessment (Girigan et al, 2016)
Home nutri-gardens impact assessment (Girigan et al, 2016)

The study shows that having nutri-gardens at home has an impact on the quantity and quality of foods consumed. 74.8 percent of sampled families ate green leafy vegetables in larger quantities because they grew the crops. While 67.2 percent families ate fruits regularly since they had fruit trees in the garden, 24 percent ate more roots and tubers.

The MSSRF home nutri-garden intervention created discourse in favour of nutri-gardens at homes, and many Panchayat Raj Institutions in Wayanad came forward to promote the gardens. Based on learnings from the MSSRF intervention, Meenangadi Grama Panchayat extended the nutri-garden initiative for 15,000 families in 2013 calling the scheme – ‘Agro-Veg’ and ‘Agro-Root’ programmes (refer: plan documents – Paddathi Rekha of Meenangadi Grama Panchayath for the years 2013-14, 2014-15). Agro-Veg programme was implemented to ensure household availability of vegetables, while Agro-Root programme focused on tubers for tribal households.
Other outcomes were that the community’s depended less on the local markets for food supply, and their culinary recipes are now varied since women began using different vegetables from their gardens. Women from these families now take decisions regarding food choices rather than depend on what men purchase from the market. Awareness around better nutrition encouraged the rural communities to be more conscious about balancing diets for their families, and consequently, their annual consumption of vegetables increased from 26.4 kg to 96 kg (Girigan et al 2016; Siddick et al 2014).

Further Readings

  • Census. (2011). Registrar General, Census, Government of India
  • GiriganGopi., Arunraj, R., &Rajees, P. C. (2016). Impacts of Home Gardening in Agrobiodiversity Hotspots among Small and Marginal Farm Households. Madras Agricultural Journal, 103, 187-191.
  • Girigan Gopi, &Manjula, M. (2018). Speciality rice biodiversity of Kerala: need for incentivising conservation in the era of changing climate. Current Science, 114(5), 997-1006.
  • Government of Kerala. (2016). An Analytical study on Agriculture in Kerala. Monitoring and Evaluation Division, Directorate of Agriculture, Thiruvananthapuram.
  • Kumar, B. M. (2006). Land use in Kerala: changing scenarios and shifting paradigms. Journal of tropical agriculture, 43, 1-12.
  • MSSRF (2005-06) Annual Report, pp 67
  • Narayanan, M. R., Anil Kumar, N., Balakrishnan, V., Sivadasan, M., Alfarhan, H. A., &Alatar, A. A. (2011). Wild edible plants used by the Kattunaikka, Paniya and Kuruma tribes of Wayanad District, Kerala, India. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 5(15), 3520-3529.
  • NFHS. (2005-06). NFHS-3. Government of India
  • NFHS. (2015-16). District Fact Sheet, Wayanad. NFHS-4. Government of India
  • NFHS. (2019-21). District Fact Sheet, Wayanad. NFHS-5. Government of India
  • Raghu, P. T., RK, M., & PI, M. P. (2014). Assessment of Food and Nutrient Intake of Communities across Three Agro-biodiversity Hotspots in India.European Scientific Journal, 3, 135-147.
  • Siddick, A., Gopi, Girigan., Mishra, C. S., King, E. D. I. O., & Goddard, E. (2014). Home gardens and fish ponds for nourishment and empowerment. IDRC Stories of Change, Wren Media.