Selected Publications - Abstract

Cleveland, David A. and Daniela Soleri (1987) Household Gardens as a Development Strategy. Human Organization 46(3):259-270.


We review evidence for household gardens as a viable development strategy for improving food production, nutrition and income. We use a functional definition of household gardens as a food production system which is managed and controlled by the household and is supplemental to the main source of household food and income. It can be consumption or market oriented, but some produce will be consumed. Gardens are often next to the house, but may be distant or in the fields. There is much variation in garden form and function between households, ethnic groups and ecological zones. Household gardens have been part of development strategy for a long time, but there is little evidence of their effect. There are two major models. Industrial gardens commonly promoted by development projects include exotic cultivars, expensive inputs, and planting rows. Their popularity results in part from the production successes of high input agriculture and the bias of development personnel. Traditionally-based gardens use local crop varieties planted in complex mixtures with minimal commercial inputs, are environmentally sustainable, and conserve genetic resources.

In general, garden yield per unit area is equal to or greater than yield in field crop production. Labor productivity in traditional gardens may be greater than traditional field crop production, especially when trees and other perennial crops are present. Evidence supports the potential of gardens to improve nutritional status and income, and they are most often promoted for these reasons. There is, however, little evidence of positive effects, partly because of the complex chain of events from production, distribution and consumption, to improved household well-being. Inter- and intra-household patterns of control over resources are a key variable. For example, men may take over women's gardens when they become financially successful. The poor record of household garden projects suggests that to be successful they must be more appropriate for the conditions of poor households, and founded on the wealth of local gardening knowledge and experience. Improving and encouraging traditionally-based gardens which are sustainable and accessible to low-resource households may be the best development strategy for household gardens