The entire world is witnessing a transition in food habits and consumption patterns. The food consumption trend exhibits a higher preference for processed and packaged foods, sweetened and carbonated beverages and foods having higher salt, sugar and fat. Thus, the current food consumption pattern is more inclined toward consuming energy-dense foods lacking in nutrient density and dietary diversity. This imposes an additional burden on the existing burden of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies/hidden hunger; along with attracting lifestyle disorders. Further, snacking and munching on empty-calorie foods, ready-to-eat processed snacks, canned snacks, and convenience foods in between meals also elevates this burden. (Almoraie et al., 2021)
The intake of whole grains and cereals is decreasing while the intake of refined flours is increasing. On one side the consumption of energy-dense foods is rising, but that of nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and fruits is still way below the recommended dietary allowances (RDA). According to WHO, excluding starchy vegetables, the consumption of vegetables and fruits per day should be at least five portions; however, the average consumption is less than three to four servings (Pem and Jeewon, 2015). For Indians according to “My Plate for the day” suggested by the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition (for meeting the 2000 Kcal diet), the consumption of vegetables (350g) and fruits (150g) should be 500 g/day; but the consumption is significantly lower than the RDA. The reduced consumption of green leafy vegetables, fruits, indigenous fruits and vegetables can also be associated with decreased dietary diversity.
Dietary diversity measures the total number of food groups that are consumed by the individuals and the household in the given duration. For the household, dietary diversity indicates household accessibility for diverse food groups and for individuals, it indicates nutrient adequacy. Better the diversity, the better the food security of the individual and household. Food security is based on four major dimensions, “availability, accessibility, utilization and stability” of foods. Along with food security, nutrition security is important for an individual to lead a healthy life. Nutrition security is defined as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” (https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/05/27/nutritional-security-through-sustainable agriculture#:~:text=Nutritional%20security%20is%20defined%20as,an%20active%20and%20healthy%20life.%E2%80%9D)
Thus, both food and nutritional security are important for leading an active and healthy life. Growing and maintaining a kitchen garden or nutrition garden is regarded as a step taking us closer to achieving the goal of food and nutritional security by promoting the cultivation of green leafy vegetables, fruits, microgreens, vegetables, traditional crops and many more crops in the backyard.
A nutrition garden is perceived as space around the house where one can grow different herbs, vegetables and fruits for daily household use, thereby making the family self-reliant and assuring availability, accessibility and stable supply of sufficient, safe and nutritious food for their utilization.
Advantages of cultivating a Nutrition Garden:
• It can assist in promoting food and nutritional security by managing and reducing the incidence of malnutrition;
• Nutrition gardening assures the availability of safe, nutritious and quality food;
• It can assist in ensuring and promoting dietary diversity;
• The micronutrient deficiencies can be dealt with to an extent by boosting the intake of vegetables and fruits (as they are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) that are grown in the nutrition garden;
• It also assists in enhancing the involvement of members of the family in nutrition-related activities;
• The surplus food grown in nutrition garden can help in providing additional income support for the families;
• Nutrition gardening can also help in managing the waste of the house and reduce the investments;
• Allows the individuals to keep their environment clean and maintain sanitation by managing the household wet waste;
• The wastewater generated from households can be recycled;
• The nutrition garden can also help in providing fodder.
Types of Nutrition Garden
Home garden/backyard garden/kitchen garden: This type of kitchen garden is cultivated in the land available in back or front yard, passage, corridors or small areas of the house. The layout of the kitchen garden depends on land availability. Terrace gardens can be maintained in urban areas where land space is limited. Kitchen waste can be used as compost for the home garden. Vegetables like bitter gourd, pumpkin, tomatoes, ash gourd, cucumber, brinjal, chilies, okra and so on can be cultivated. Even crops like herbs, drumstick (moringa), curry leaves, mango, pineapple, guava, sapota and ginger can be grown depending on the space and land availability. The kitchen garden can be the source of daily fresh vegetables for the entire household, decreasing the expenditure and dependency on market to buy fruits and vegetables.
Different initiatives are taken across India to promote nutrition gardening. Nutrition gardening is promoted across the country via National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) for alleviating malnutrition. Through NRLM, Government of India encourages through various awareness campaigns, the development of household/kitchen gardens to promote healthy eating and improve agro-ecological practices. Recently, under Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana – National Rural Livelihood Mission, (DAY-NRLM)’ ‘Agri Nutri Garden Week’ was celebrated from 10th to 17th January 2022 for promoting the establishment of ‘Agri Nutri Gardens’. Under the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme), Government of India has laid out guidelines to promote ‘nutrition gardens’ for enhancing the dietary diversity and income of the family. Another example is Odisha Livelihood Mission which promotes kitchen gardening. One successful example is the project ‘Climate Resilience Adaptive Farming in Rural Tribal Communities in Kalahandi (CRAFT-K), Odisha’ by Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) (2019), where 200 women were trained and supported in Gharbadi (kitchen garden) cultivation. Under the Gharbadi project, different nutritious plants like papaya, pomegranate, lemon, tomatoes, onion, onion stalk, brinjal, chillies, leafy vegetables, moringa and many more were grown.
In a school nutrition garden, variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and other crops can be cultivated within the land available in the school premises of all the localities (rural/peri-urban/ urban) and the grown vegetables can be used for preparing hot cooked food of MDM (mid-day meal). MDM scheme supports in the development of nutrition gardens by providing an amount of Rs. 5000/- per school nutrition garden under the provision called “flexi fund component of innovative interventions” (School Nutrition Garden – MDM scheme, MHRD, Govt. of INDIA).
This money can be used for buying necessary supplies like seed purchases, compost purchases and so on. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has developed guidelines for school nutrition (kitchen) gardens in government and aided schools under the mid-day meal scheme. Growing a school nutrition garden can help in increasing the involvement of children in gardening activities, increasing their knowledge about nutritious foods by providing them with first-hand experience. The freshly cultivated vegetables when used for providing diversified foods in MDM can provide an opportunity to reduce malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. The knowledge gained during the cultivation of a nutrition garden can help in cultivating good habits of choosing healthy/nutritious foods in meals as well as while snacking. One such example of government schemes promoting the development of kitchen/nutrition gardens is by The Karnataka Horticulture department, which utilizes funds from MGNREGA to develop school kitchen garden in government schools called ‘Akshara Kaitoota’. This has promoted increased consumption of vegetables and fruits in school children. Under ‘POSHAN Maah: 2021’, schools and anganwadis were urged to develop nutrition garden. Slogans were given as #Local4Poshan with plantation of nutrition-gardens and kitchen gardens across India, including the tribal districts. The food grown at these nutri-gardens can be used in the supplementation programme in anganwadis and schools. It can also be used for demonstration programmes via nutri-kitchen, where simple nutri-dense indigenous recipes, food-preservation techniques are taught to mothers/ caregivers in Anganwadi Centres and also for the other beneficiaries.
In these types of nutrition gardens, all the members of the community contribute towards maintaining a common garden for all. The main advantages of a community nutrition garden are that they help the landless members of the community as the cultivated/harvested produce is also shared with them. These gardens can also be a source of income for the community members who can market the seeds/vegetables/fruits grown. A recent successful example of a community nutrition garden was the one set up in 2019 at Veppangudi village, Karur district with the assistance of KVK (Krishi Vigyan Kendra). This community garden model assisted 200 households to become self-sufficient in their vegetable production.
Within the closer vicinity of the city (15-20 kms.) these market gardens are cultivated. These gardens are the source for supplying fresh vegetables to the close by local market. Depending on the demands from local market, the crops are selected for cultivation. Varieties especially that cannot withstand longer transportation are preferred, as they are grown for nearby local markets.
For setting up a nutrition garden in any area, various layouts can be adapted depending on the availability of space and land. Some layouts are Multi-Tier Cropping, Sack Garden, Plantation in Fencing, Floating Gardens, key-hole gardening, vertical gardening, horizontal gardening, etc. The institutions like KVK, Agriculture universities, Horticulture universities and NGOs in every state can train, fund and focus on developing and maintaining kitchen gardens.
One can encourage nutrition gardening in all the areas feasible (home, backyard, school, community, market) in order to reduce the intensity of malnutrition. Schools can promote gardening to motivate students to eat fresh and healthy. Benefits from different governmental programmes can be harnessed by becoming aware of them, which can help in funding/training/setting up a nutrition garden/kitchen garden. Nutrition gardens can be a source of generating some additional incomes with the surplus produce, along with promoting dietary diversity and in turn taking a step closer towards food and nutrition security.
1. Almoraie, N. M., Saqaan, R., Alharthi, R., Alamoudi, A., Badh, L., & Shatwan, I. M. (2021). Snacking patterns throughout the life span: potential implications on health. Nutrition Research, 91, 81-94.
5. Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) (2019). Harvesting Happiness from Small Pieces of Land. Available at https://igsss.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Gharbadi-Cultivation-1.pdf
6. Pem, D., & Jeewon, R. (2015). Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Benefits and Progress of Nutrition Education Interventions- Narrative Review Article. Iranian journal of public health, 44(10), 1309–1321.
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