Homestead agroforestry: Adaptability to sustainability

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By: Dr. Nazir A. Pala

A home garden (syn. Homestead farm) is an operational farm which integrates trees with field crops, poultry and/or fish having the basic objective of ensuring sustained availability of multiple products such as food, vegetables, fruits, fodder, fuel, timber, medicines and/or ornamentals besides generating employment and cash income. Maintenance and establishment of homegardens reflect the ethical and traditional knowledge the particular community those maintaining the system.

Value of system have recently been recognized for their potential for biodiversity conservation and is example of dynamic architecture which have accommodating various type of trees, herb and shrub species. Due to this unique feature it is recognized as a sustainable and resilient ecosystem as well as utilizing nutrients from various soil levels through different root structures and both of aerial and ground spaces efficiently.

A well-developed home garden has the potential, when access to land and water is not a major limitation, to supply most of the non-staple foods that a family needs every day of the year. Flexibility in farming practices of home gardens encourages the introduction and maintenance of wild species, indigenous crops and traditional varieties forming intra-specific diversity and complementing germplasm collections.

It is even suggested to encourage the cultivation of home gardens in any possible way like reinforce socio-economic information to improve capacity of farmer communities to manage and maintain home garden diversity as it provide direct benefits to owners and users of home garden products.


Maintenance of genetic variation within agricultural crops provides a broad range of essential goods and services which support ecosystems functioning, resilience and productivity. These are man-managed micro-environments with high energy subsidy, complex structure and multiple functions containing high levels of species and genetic diversity within larger farming systems. These have reached high levels of development in terms of plant diversity, labour input and income derived in the regions where population densities are high.

Biological diversity for food and agriculture can be managed to maintain or enhance ecosystem functions to provide options for the optimization of agricultural production and contributing to the resilience of ecosystems for risk mitigation.

The conservation value and long-term viability of these systems, however, would increase if it contains a wide genetic base providing the capacity to adapt to environmental fluctuations or changes of practices. The potential of these systems to harbour genetic diversity is based on the efforts associated with population management. Home gardens have characteristics that present particular challenges and opportunities for those interested in the maintenance of genetic diversity within production systems.

They are complex, multi-storied environments with very high species diversity and a wide range of very varied ecological micro-niches traditionally integrated within a larger surrounding ecosystem. Predominance of trees is common especially the fruit species particular when these are crucial for the diet of household members in terms of vitamins and fibers.

Community and gender involvement

Home garden is a small system of household plant production and an unpopular aged-long food security strategy partly because of its wide variety of produce and its informal nature. Home gardening has become an important part of cultural heritage which denotes specific farming practices at different localities. The diversified, year-round supply of products from gardens is often crucial for subsistence among the poorest and most marginalized groups in developing countries. It can provide important opportunities for small-scale marketing while the garden’s physical space itself allows development of other income-generating activities such as handicraft production or blacksmithing.

An understanding of the role of women in homegarden management within a traditional farming system is important in expanding and improving the practice.

Women are mostly involved in homegarden management and conservation related activities ensuring substantial benefits as food security, income, health care, and environmental benefits. Women were found to be aware of home-garden conservation and tuned to motivating husbands, children, and neighbours to conserve the agro-biodiversity of homegardens.

Women are often the custodians of seeds and knowledge which they transmit to the following generation. Increased involvement of women in a broad range of homegarden management activities is not only beneficial for their own socio-economic well-being but also imperative for sustaining the livelihoods of their communities and for preserving the agro-biodiversity in homegardens.

Women are better judges at selecting species to be cultivated in home gardens in response to the needs and demands of household and local markets. Since home gardens are spaces of resources, management techniques and human cultural processes, these systems are considered as important reservoir of biocultural heritage.

Society and their cultures have profound influence on the diversity of the ecosystems they belong to and it is often people’s cultural and economic values which explain differences even among neighbouring fields and gardens Customs, tradition and aesthetic preferences are instrumental in determining the overall aspect of the garden. Crop diversity in home gardens were attributed to a broad range of known factors and usually as a fruit of ecological conditions, economic context and demands, tastes, knowledge, ethnicity, culture and special experiments of home garden owner.


These systems are commonly formed by a variety of plant and animal species either wild and domesticated whose composition and structure are continually transformed according to plans designed by humans that manage them that illustrate mechanisms of domestication operating at ecosystems and landscape levels. They are thus often delimited from their surrounding by hedges, fences, or other barriers. Home gardens have specialized edaphic, microclimate and biotic conditions due to more or less sharp separation and repeated tending from the household which make them markedly different from their surrounding landscape.

Homegardens commonly resemble the structure of natural ecosystems i.e. they create a forest-like multi-storey canopy structure. Perhaps the forest like structure is derived from either the lack of a discernible planting pattern or alternatively, the result of deliberate planning to mimic the forest. The diversity in composition, structure and functions are human constructions and are apparently inspired in the surrounding ecosystems.

The choice of plant species, their arrangement and management varies between and within tropical homegardens in the same community. Species diversity, size, shape and plant density vary from place to place depending on cultural. Medicinal plants are frequently planted in the lower strata of multistrata systems such as home gardens.

Use of Home Gardens

Homegardens have been shown to provide a diverse and stable supply of socioeconomic products and benefits to the families that maintain them. It is an integrated system which comprises different things in its small area (the family house, a kitchen garden, a mixed garden etc) that produces a variety of foods and agricultural products including staple crops, vegetables, fruits, medicinal plants and so on. The importance of home gardens in the production of food, medicine and other useful products for human beings is widely recognized.

Communities worldwide manage homegardens as they find in them multiple goods to satisfy their social, cultural and economic needs, mainly food, medicines, nutritional, ornamental and spiritual, fodder, fuel wood and products that generate monetary income to support wellbeing and livelihoods The contribution of home gardens to rural energy needs has also been acknowledged but variability in the properties of home garden wood specimens is large and little quantitative information exists on their heat of combustion and the physical properties of that combustion.

Carbon Sequestration

In the era of climate change, increased population and large chunk of degraded lands, maintenance of multispecies and multistrata agroforests are deemed worthwhile. These land-use systems contribute not only to production objectives but also to the objectives of biodiversity and environmental conservation. Agroforestry has importance as a carbon sequestration strategy because of carbon storage potential in its multiple plant species and soil as well as its applicability in agricultural lands and in reforestation.

By including trees in agricultural production systems, agroforestry can, arguably, increase the amount of carbon stored in lands devoted to agriculture, while still allowing for the growing of food crops.

According to recent projections, the area of the world under agroforestry will increase substantially in the near future. Undoubtedly, this will have a great impact on the flux and long-term storage of C in the terrestrial biosphere. Well managed systems and if they include soil conservation practices, can contribute to increasing short-term carbon storage in trees and soils, as will be shown in some examples that follow.

Finally, whether agroforestry systems can be a sink or a source of carbon depends on the land-use systems that they replace: if they replace natural primary or secondary forests, they will accumulate comparatively lower biomass and carbon but if they are established on degraded or otherwise treeless lands, their carbon sequestration value is considerably increased.

The potential of agroforestry as an effective carbon sink varies depending on the natural quality of sites, proper design and management practices. The potential seems to be substantial but has not been even adequately recognized, let alone exploited. As in other land-use systems, the extent of carbon sequestered will depend on the amounts of carbon in standing biomass, recalcitrant carbon remaining in the soil and carbon sequestered in wood products.

The home garden system, thus, is remarkably resilient, which is an added advantage, considering that lack of stability or permanence of the carbon sequestered is a major concern in carbon sequestration projects.

The writer is Scientist, Division of SAF, Faculty of Forestry SKUAST-Kashmir. ([email protected])

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