As per the Global Hunger Index 2020, India was placed at 94 among 107 nations and hence falls in the ”serious” hunger category. Several organizations, foundations and trusts have been working relentlessly to support the government’s efforts to reduce malnutrition in the country. Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) is one such grassroots pan-India implementing organization that harnesses the power of partnerships – between communities, the Government and other like-minded corporates and NGOs – to help solve pressing community problems and to foster development. One of the most effective programs, which commenced in 2017, was working with 400 households in Bathinda where ACF promoted households to maintain kitchen gardens (in 10’*10’ area). The idea is to promote supplemental food production among the underprivileged people in rural areas to improve nutrition security and supplement household income. The primary rationale behind this model is to help improving nutrition status, providing them with a mix of vegetables to grow in their kitchen gardens.
In the initial phase, ACF provides training to beneficiaries and orients them on how to grow at least 10 vegetables in a small piece of land. The beneficiaries were provided seed kits, consisting of ten types of vegetable seeds (focusing on iron-rich vegetables). The kit contains seeds of ladyfinger, bottle gourd, spinach, coriander, cucumber, radish, bitter gourd, turnip, cauliflower, and cabbage. Since there is a variety of seeds provided in the kit, it has helped beneficiary families have a balanced and nutritious diet that includes proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, magnesium, iron, folate, manganese, zinc, potassium, sodium, calcium, fibre and phosphorous.
Kitchen gardens are established and maintained on a small patch of land with minimum technical inputs; hence, these gardens provide the marginal communities with a platform for innovations in supplemental food production as well as an opportunity to improve their livelihoods. Family labour, especially the efforts of women, becomes particularly important in the management of these backyard gardens. It is cost-effective, practical and easy to meet a balanced dietary requirement of rural households as well as add substantially to the family income.
Sukhpreet Kaur, a beneficiary of ACF’s kitchen garden initiative and a resident of Mehma Sawai village says, “Apart from saving money, the kitchen garden initiative also helped me to improve the nutrition status of my family. Regular intake of nutrient-rich vegetables like Ladyfinger, Spinach, Bottle Gourd had increased the energy levels and my efficiency at work.”
Kitchen gardens help increase household income either by the sale of the food products grown in the gardens or by the consumption of the same food items that the families would have otherwise purchased from markets using a significant portion of the family income. The benefits of kitchen gardening were also seen during the lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vegetables grown at the household level led to savings of Rs. 25-30 per day for each family on average. This ultimately led to a saving of approximately Rs. 750-1000 per family per month. Kitchen garden products and the savings from consuming home-grown food products create an increased amount of disposable income for the beneficiary families, who invest the surplus income to fulfill other domestic requirements including the purchase of additional food items, greater investment in the education of children, and othersand growing vegetables in more areas by hiring land on rent.
Ms. Veer Pal Kaur, another beneficiary says, “Apart from the use of vegetables, I sold the vegetables in the local market and earned money which was used to meet some of my household expenses.”
By distributing seeds to households in the villages, the program encouraged women to get actively involved in kitchen gardening. As a result, the contribution of women in household food production has increased manifold, at times even making them the sole caretakers of these gardens. It is seen that with time, kitchen gardening activities commensurate with their daily domestic chores, subsequently generating hopes for their socio-economic enhancement. Additionally, in case of pregnant women, working in the kitchen gardens was found to be a very good alternatives working in the agriculture fields would have involved heavy manual work for long hours.
Kitchen gardening also helps in reducing cases of Anaemia among women and adolescent girls. ACF is creating awareness among communities on Anaemia and conduct HB test in government schools. ACF also motivates those families to have a kitchen garden whose siblings are anaemic. In addition to this, kitchen gardens provide environmentally sound opportunities for waste disposal. Composting is commonly used for household wastes including kitchen waste, paper, and even animal waste, which are used to enrich the soil.
Therefore, kitchen gardens serve as an eco-friendly and sustainable agricultural practice to improve food security and enhance the economic growth of rural households of the villages. In times of increasing food prices, the kitchen gardening practice has the potential to directly address the areas of nutrition and food security, income generation and alternate livelihood creation for the household as well as empowerment of women, in the long run, in rural areas. Such initiatives help improving health indicators of the community and at the same time empower women.
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