Homestead food production in Asia

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Village model farmer in Nepal - Credit: ©Helen Keller International/George Figdor

The Helen Keller International Homestead Food Production Program (HFP) in Asia supports growing a variety of plant and animal species within households to diversify diets and provide families with fresh vegetables and animal products all year round. The program introduces new crop varieties while preserving and promoting indigenous plant varieties, poultry and livestock. As well as reducing the risk of crop loss due to pests, disease, and climate change, this method improves the nutritional status of household members by promoting the consumption of a broader range of macro and micronutrients and phytochemicals.

The problem
Malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, is a serious public health problem among women and children throughout Asia. Underweight among preschool children in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal and the Philippines is 41%, 36%, 39% and 21% percent respectively. Anaemia and vitamin A deficiencies are also widespread, with anaemia affecting over half of children between 6 and 59 months and pregnant women in these countries.

Agricultural biodiversity
To diversify production systems and increase dietary diversity, the HFP program encourages the conservation and use of indigenous varieties of fruits and vegetables, particularly underutilized species, and the introduction of micronutrient-rich species from similar agro-ecosystems. Improved local breeds of poultry are promoted as animal source foods in addition to fish. In Asia, Helen Keller International (HKI) promotes more than ten infrequently cultivated indigenous varieties of vegetables and fruits. These include varieties of mint (Mentha sp.), black arum (Xanthosoma atrovirens), kangkong (Ipomoea aquatica), pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan), drumsticks (Moringa oleifera), helencha (Enhydra fluctuans), Thankuni pata (Centella asiatica), neem (Azadirachta indica), basil (Ocimum sp.), country bean (Lablab niger), cowpea (Vigna sp.), taro (Colocasia esculenta), and coriander (Coriandrum sativum). Some of these are leguminous plants promoted to enhance soil nitrogen; others act as organic insect repellents. Because they are locally adapted, these plants do not require significant labour or other inputs, yet contribute to a healthy agro-ecosystem as well as nutritional diversity.

The project
Since 1988, HKI promotes the HFP model by establishing demonstration plots on local farms to showcase low cost, low risk cultivation practices to households interested in diversifying vegetable, fruit and animal production. Farmers with adequate land and a demonstrated commitment to the project are selected by community leaders and trained to set up and run Village Model Farms (VMF) that provide training and demonstrations on improved agricultural techniques, technologies and poultry production activities for households participating in the program (typically between 20-40 households per VMF). Furthermore, the VMF are used as production centres, providing targeted households with low cost quality seeds, seedlings, saplings of locally available fruit, shade and multipurpose trees and local or improved breeds of chicks. Model farmers are coached to provide technical training on seed production and storage to ensure sustainable cultivation in subsequent planting seasons. Because of their important role in household food preparation, women are the main targets for training and technical assistance.
Nutrition education is also part and parcel of the project with training provided to mothers (in view of their important role in household food preparation) on healthier eating practices, including the consumption of nutritious foods during pregnancy and lactation, optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding for infants and young children. Other elements of the behaviour change communications strategy include cooking demonstrations, engagement of fathers and grandmothers, community mobilization events and mass media messages to reinforce knowledge and support changes in community norms around nutrition.

Impact

  • In project areas, improved (diverse, year-round) homestead food production increased from <1 to 89% of households between 2004 and 2009.
  • The volume of production and the number of crop varieties grown in participating households increased, with improved homegardens producing on average 45 varieties of vegetables compared to 10 in households with traditional gardens.
  • Evidence from the four countries in Asia where the program has the longest history showed decreases in anaemia prevalence among children aged from 6-59 months in all program communities and greater differences in program compared to control communities
  • Increases in dietary diversity are documented (measured as consumption of at least three food groups on at least three of the previous seven days) from 34-62% among women and from 43-86% among children aged between 6-59 months.
  • A review by IFPRI of HKI’s nearly 20 years of support for HFP intervention in Bangladesh recognized that the program improved food security for nearly five million vulnerable people in diverse agro-ecological zones, increasing both the variety and quantity of production.

Scale up efforts
In Asia the positive impact of the HFP intervention on food security, dietary intake and nutritional status of household members has captured the attention of governments and development partners who have begun to scale-up efforts to other food insecure areas.

  • In Bangladesh, the Government has provided additional funding to the program and implemented the HFP model through government extension services.
  • Efforts to scale-up the approach under relevant national agricultural strategies, nutritional and food security strategies, policies and programmes are also being pursued in Nepal and Cambodia.
  • In the Philippines, Local Government Units have provided funding to expand the HFP practices to additional households and provinces, while in Indonesia the program is in the pilot phase.
  • HKI has recently begun to translate this model of biodiverse household production to sub-Saharan Africa, with an initiative underway in Burkina Faso and another planned in Tanzania.

Key lessons learned

  • Small-scale, diversified agriculture can be highly productive, sustainable, improve livelihoods, nutritional status and well-being in multiple ways, while promoting good stewardship of natural resources.
  • Women play a necessary and key role in HFP as they translate inputs and technical training into improved household nutrition.
  • Strong partnerships with a range of local community-based organizations ensure that HFP builds on and enhances local practices, is compatible with socio-cultural norms, and engages existing structures.
  • A clearly defined, but flexible programme model facilitates successful replication to other food insecure areas with varying agro-ecological zones and cultural situations.
  • Strong monitoring and evaluation systems and feedback loops allow effective use of data to inform and improve HFP programming.
  • Local community-based organizations (CBOs) and community engagement and leadership are crucial to the success and sustainability of the HFP programme, as is collaboration with government and non-governmental agents from not only the health and agriculture sectors, who are mobilized to disseminate key messages and reinforce improved practices, but also local development, education, women’s development, and water and sanitation.

Further information

http://www.2ser.com/component/k2/item/4954-helen-keller-international

http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781849714570/