Research: Labour costs and climate change threaten home gardens in Kerala

Home-gardens are declining due to climate change and poor economy[1]

A home garden. Photo by Isaiah Esipisu

Over the past decade, unfavorable climatic conditions, lack of farm inputs, and the search for white-collar jobs has led to a decline in the number of home gardens to be found in in Kerala, say experts.

Results of a recent survey whose findings were presented at the ongoing World Congress on Agroforestry reveals that a more residents living in this densely populated state of southern India now rely food bought from markets instead of feeding on produce from their home gardens, as they did a decade ago.

“The main purpose of our survey was to verify the aforementioned hypothesis by determining whether or not smallholding agriculture is losing importance in Kerala, and identifying the drivers of these changes,” the lead researcher, Thomas Arcadius Fox told the Congress in New Delhi, India.

The study sampled land owners at 115 randomly selected rural homesteads in eight of the 14 districts in Kerala to find out whether they depended on home gardens for food production or not.

“Overall, our study found that landholders are becoming less dependent on their home gardens for both subsistence and commercial agriculture. And over the past 10 years, there have been declines in the production of food crops, cash crops, spices, timber and livestock,” said Fox.

According to the researcher, the respondents identified increasing labour costs as the primary driver behind decisions to reduce reliance on agriculture. In addition, unreliable climatic conditions, low returns on investment, and increased prevalence of pests and disease discouraged home gardens. Some interviewees cited lack of space for farming, since most of the land had been used for construction of human settlements.

Home garden agroforests are a long-established and important type of smallholder land use in Kerala, and are estimated to constitute about 25 percent of the state’s total land cover, and a half of agricultural land, according to Fox.

The decline in the home-gardens is therefore regarded as a blow to the entire environment, biodiversity and livelihoods of the current and the future generations.

To the contrary, home gardens are on the rise in Sri Lanka, said Prof DKNG Pushpakumara of the University of Peradeniya, another presenter at the same session.

He pointed out that there was a need to incentivize home gardens through carbon financing mechanisms as a way of encouraging farmers to invest more in such agroforests.

“At the moment, home-gardens are the main source of fuelwood, timber and food in Sri Lanka,” he told the Congress.

In a study titled ‘Carbon stock and tree diversity of dry-zone home-gardens in southern Sri Lanka,’ Prof Pushpakumara said that the government can use the study results to decide whether home gardens should directly or indirectly be considered to be included as an activity within Sri Lanka’s newly commenced UN-REDD National Program.

“The good thing with home-gardens is that they are resilient to climate change,” he said.

The country, according to the study, has a tree cover of 40 percent, with most of the trees being found in home-gardens.

By Isaiah Esipisu

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One Person has left comments on this post

» Ganesan RP said: { Feb 11, 2014 - 06:02:41 }

It is true, a family should not depend only on agriculture, particularly very small land holdings. we need to reorient ourself, based present scenario. Be ready to work in your own home gardens, may be 1-2 hours daily, weekends. Remaining time look for some other profession.

Home gardens / terrace gardens shall be encouraged with simple guiding books, trainings, awards, highlighting the benefits like you get fresh, chemical free using your kitchen / home waste, it is a good hobby to keep your mind healthy.

One Drum strick tree gives us vegetables and $15 pa

Now we have planted evergreen Jack fruit in south west of our house, which we hope will save our electricity bill in addition to fruit

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