‘Kutumba Kai Thottas’ or family kitchen gardens are being successfully promoted in Karnataka, to supplement the nutritional intake of these families and provide a source for additional income.
With growing awareness about the quality and safety of our food,vegetables has received increased consumer attention for its freshness, hygiene and nutrition. Besides small farmers in rural areas, entrepreneurs and hobbyists alike have taken to vegetable farming. Vegetable cultivation has invaded the backyards and urban rooftops of those who prefer to grow their vegetables themselves, free from the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, for a more organic diet.
GREEN Foundation, an NGO works with the farmers in Kanakapura taluk in Karnataka. Majority of the farmers own one to two hectares of land and adopt monocropping practices. Farmers depend on rainfed agriculture and earnon an average, Rs.30000 annually. In the off season, they migrate to nearby villages or other states for work including agricultural labour and other kinds of manual labour.
As a part of their association, GREEN Foundation has been conducting clinical service camps and health check-ups in collaboration with the local Primary Health Centres, thereby monitoring the health of people. Several diseases related to nutritional deficiencies were identified during these camps. The families, on an average,spent around Rs 400 every month to buy vegetables. Considering the unpredictability of agriculture and the meagre incomes they earn from it, supplementing their diet with vegetables was difficult, thereby compromising on the nutritional security of the households.
Kitchen gardens are not only a source of nutrition, but a source of quick income as well
Based on the situation, GREEN Foundation, encouraged and supported farm families to grow ‘Kutumba Kai Thottas’ or kitchen gardens to supplement the nutritional intake of these families and provide a source for additional income.
The field staff identified farm families with space for growing vegetables in their backyards and convinced the women of the families of the benefits of a kitchen garden – both nutritional and economic. Women have always taken the lead in vegetable cultivation and saving seeds. The women are trained in growing these vegetables organically in their backyards. Native seeds are promoted and the farmers are educated about the importance of these native seeds which are disease and pest resistant.
The staff assess the landscape and recommend different methods such as raised bed method, permaculture and check basin method. Farmers are offered 22 options of vegetable seeds to choose from and the staff support them by recommending seeds fit for their specific contexts, taking into account space, soil, likelihood of pest attack and overall interest. Some farmers grow as many as 10 different vegetables in their kitchen gardens. For the last couple of years, women farmers have been leading this activity and growing chilies, coriander, spinach, carrot, beans, radish, tomato, cucumber, bottle gourd, ridge gourd and bitter gourd in their kitchen gardens. However, considering the health profile of the population, we have been insisting on crops like drumsticks and curry leaves, among other vegetables, due to their specific nutritional characteristics that can prevent diseases such as anaemia, diabetes, hypertension, etc.
Farmers are trained in preparing bio-inputs as well, thereby reducing their dependance on expensive inorganic inputs. The bio-inputs prepared include farmyard manure, dravajeevamrutha, poochimarandu, panchagavya, chilli-garlic decoction, lemon kashaya, ghanajeevamrutha, etc. The bio-inputs are also procured directly from the Janadhanya Farmer Producer Company Limited (JFPCL), which was established as an association of farming community members who are empowered to work collectively to conserve agrobiodiversity, provide market linkage for farmer produce and promote organic farming, among other objectives.
Interested farmers are also trained in producing surplus seeds which are sold to JFPCL after ensuring there is enough for the next cultivation cycle. This acts as a source of extra income for the farmers.
GREEN Foundation has been supporting around 160 farm families from different villages in the Kanakapura taluk of Ramanagara district to grow kitchen gardens.
Growing kitchen gardens in available spaces around their homes using organically available resources, has helped offset the additional cost and satisfy families’ nutritional requirements. Chillies, coriander, spinach, carrot, beans, radish, tomato, amaranthus, okra, cucumber, bottle gourd, ridge gourd and bitter gourd are some of the vegetables grown in their kitchen gardens.
The produce per household varies largely depending on the size of the plots, but on an average, a household produces between 100 and 200 kg per year. Although the produce is primarily for consumption within the family, some surplus is distributed among neighbours and relatives and the remaining is marketed through the JFPCL or through the local market. Kitchen gardens are therefore not only a source of nutrition, but a source of quick income as well. In addition, they are able to save Rs 400 every month, which they were spending earlier on buying vegetables.
Besides the nutritional aspect, vegetable cultivation is popular as a source of quick income for poor households. Vegetables require a shorter duration for cultivation than cereal and fruit crops and are less input intensive, hence helping farmers engage in Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA). Farmers use bio-inputs instead of inorganic alternatives which are expensive. Their indigenous knowledge comes in handy in preparation and use of such products.
There are more people waiting to put their own empty spaces around the house to good use and secure the nutritional requirements of their families. Around 380 farmers have applied at their gram panchayats for a State Government scheme promoting kitchen gardens, where the beneficiary will be given a package of Rs 2750, including the seeds.
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