What is a nutri-garden?
The concept of nutri-gardens builds on the optimal utilization of land to grow vegetables and fruits that can support the nutritional needs of the community and address the gaps in access, quality, and availability of diverse and nutritious diets. It represents an exemplar practice which addresses multiple goals of nutrition security, agri-food diversity, livelihood generation and environmental sustainability. Also, known as Integrated homestead food production (IHFP), this concept entails cultivation of smallscale plots often adjacent to households for enhanced food security and nutrition with a focus on “nutrition-sensitive, pro-poor & women-controlled approach to household food production”. Moreover, homestead gardening can be coupled with promotion of backyard livestock, beehives and/or fish ponds. Research shows that IHFP can be used as a model for increasing dietary intake (in particular, of micronutrients) and increased income for resource-poor households.2
What does the evidence say?
Reviewing the relevant literature, global evidence from trials conducted in South Africa, Nepal, Bhutan and the United States of America, confirm that setting up of nutri-gardens, especially in schools can lead to an increased awareness and preference for vegetable and fruit rich diets in children. Experiences from South Africa show that growing school food gardens can be an effective vehicle for increasing the likelihood of fresh vegetable and fruit consumption amongst children. Moreover, the study also highlights the need for training of educators and garden personnel.3 Trials in the United States showed that growing of school yard gardens lead to increased dietary intake of vegetables and fruits amongst adolescents with a significant increase in the vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber intake.4 Interestingly, in Nepal, such trials were complimented with nutrition education programs and sensitization lessons on gardening and eating behaviours. Results showed a significant increase in awareness about healthy diets and sustainable agriculture, coupled with stated preferences for fresh produce consumption. Though it did not end up translating in to actual consumption of fruits and vegetables, the authors indicated a need for increased parent involvement and access to such produce in the communities.6
What is happening in India?
In the context of COVID-19, one of the most important innovations rolled out by the National Nutrition Mission in India to complement the door-step delivery of food rations, was the promotion of nutri-gardens or “poshan vatikas”. For example, in Lakshadweep, each Anganwadi worker adopted about 15 houses each and with the help of experts, identified plant species that could be grown based on the soil conditions, such as papaya, banana, and green leafy vegetables. Whereas in Mizoram, Anganwadi workers maintained ‘Kan Wadi Huan’ (nutri-gardens) at their local Anganwadi centres where they harvested and distributed bananas, maize, beans, squash, pumpkin, strawberries, mustard leaves, spinach, and lettuce. Similar to Mizoram, Gujarat also cultivated nutri-gardens at Anganwadi centres, where green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, brinjals, bananas, green chillies and drumstick plants were cultivated across the state.
As we look at the evidence from India, trials conducted by the MS Swaminathan Research foundation documented significant increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables.5 Most importantly, a systemic review of evidence from South Asia shows that while such trials have shown an increase in dietary diversity, very few have been able to demonstrate the impact of nutri-gardens on the anthropometric outcomes of the population.1 Thus, more research is warranted to monitor the long-term impact of nutri-gardens on the nutritional outcomes of children and women in high burden districts. These findings can be particularly significant in addressing the micro-nutrient deficiencies of our population and providing a sustainable solution in our fight against ‘Kuposhan’ /’Malnutrition’.
How can we promote the uptake of nutri-gardens?
With contextual evidence on the impact that nutri-gardens may have on improving the health and nutritional outcomes of women and children, there is need to invest in a “social learning network” for promotion and uptake of nutri-gardens. Some solutions suggested in this regard could include: