The term homegarden is used in the context of agroforestry. Kumar and Nair (2004) describe it as “intimate, multi-story combinations of various trees and crops, sometimes in association with domestic animals, around homesteads.” They mention village forest gardens as another term referring to the same concept. Homegarden systems are intensely maintained, multi-level systems that fit well in rural village communities.
Smallholders have practiced homegarden agroforestry for thousands of years and continue to do so today in much of the tropics (Puri and Nair, 2004). Interest in homegardens waned with the availability of industrially grown food but more recently, homegardens have increased in popularity in light of their potential for addressing environmental degradation (Jose and Shanmugaratnam, 1993; Kumar and Nair 2004).
The American non-governmental organization, Trees for the Future, has had success in establishing homegarden-style systems (which they call ‘forest gardens’) in Sub-Saharan Africa, in areas with highly problematic agricultural settings (Figure 7). The system begins with the formation of a fence/perimeter made from brush and fast-growing woody plants such as Acacia nilotica. This fence excludes livestock from the garden area. Once the perimeter is established, a variety of annual crops and trees are planted that grow well together (e.g., that do not compete excessively for resources such as light) and provide diverse household food and income streams throughout the year. The system is more resilient than cultivation of open areas where wind damage and lack of water create poor growing conditions. Fodder crops that improve the soil are grown in the system as well. Gliricidia sepium is an example, as it provides soil nitrogen as a legume and is a good feed option for ruminant livestock (Trees.org, 2016).
Depending on growing conditions in any given context, homegardens vary in the mix of species they contain. In general, however, they share the following principles:
- integration of multi-level canopy
- dense planting of crops
- close proximity to one’s dwellings
These elements make homegardens a viable option for tropical agroforestry (Kumar and Nair, 2004). As the landholder is involved in the selection of desired foods, and the system is under close maintenance of the caretakers, homegardens function as agroforestry systems that offer sustainability as well as improved nutrition and food security.
Jose, D. and N. Shanmugaratnam. 1993. Traditional Homegardens of Kerala: a sustainable human ecosystem. Agroforestry systems, 24(2): 203-213.
Kumar, B. M., and P.K.R. Nair. 2004. The enigma of tropical homegardens. Agroforestry systems, 61(1-3): 135-152.
Puri, S., and P.K.R. Nair, P. K. R. 2004. Agroforestry research for development in India: 25 years of experiences of a national program. Agroforestry Systems, 61(1-3): 437-452.
Trees.org. 2016. Trees for livestock. (Trees for the Future website, trees.org, accessed 2020)