Nourishing inspiration in Sri Lanka's model garden
As a substantial proportion of the world's population continues to migrate to urban areas, home gardens in the city are becoming increasingly important in providing good nutrition, food security and even income throughout the year. Whether urban home gardens are located on the ground, balconies or concrete roofs, their productivity depends on common factors such as the number of family members, time which can be devoted to the garden, and the regional climate. In Sri Lanka, like elsewhere, the percentage of families using a home garden is highest in the areas with most rain - about 45 per cent in wet zone cities, with 30 per cent in intermediate zone cities and 20 per cent in dry zone cities.
The majority of urban home-gardening families in Sri Lanka, grow for domestic needs, but in semi-urban areas and villages some products (typically fruit like mangoes, avocadoes and rambutan), are deliberately grown for market, or are brought to market when in excess. Productivity is affected not only by time and climate, but also by access to space, to water in times of drought, and to materials to fertilise the soil, whether purchased or home-made. It is also strongly linked to how much gardeners can build on their knowledge in all aspects of gardening.
A model home garden
To help families in Sri Lanka establish and maintain high-output home gardens, a model home garden was created nine years ago at the Horticulture Research and Development Institute (HORDI) at Gannoruwa. According to Udaya De Silva, Head of Floriculture and Home Gardening at HORDI, the model garden was created to help people increase their knowledge of gardening techniques through viewing a visible success. The 900 m2 model garden features many of the vegetables, fruits, spices, herbs and tubers which are grown in Sri Lanka. During 2006, over 63,000 people from all over the country viewed HORDI's model home garden, including large numbers of school children.
In addition to providing this model garden for visitors, HORDI also offers engaging monthly workshops on different aspects of rural and urban home-gardening for the general public, and for people holding positions both in government and in non-governmental public organisations. Topics include selecting species and varieties well-suited to regional climates, matching crops to different seasons, and choosing the right crops to thrive under various levels of shade. HORDI also offers information on which species provide the best cover crops, green manures, wind breakers and living fences.
As a garden's productivity relies on adequate fertilisation and moisture, HORDI provides workshops on efficient creation of compost from decaying garden materials and kitchen waste. For some this may be their only source of fertiliser, while for others it will supplement the use of commercial products. Conservation of moisture is highlighted through the use of coconut husk as mulch. This is particularly important during Sri Lanka's dry season, when supplementary irrigation is also sought from wells and stored rain water, as well as from the tap.
Spreading information and resources
HORDI also offers information on cultivation methods which maximise urban garden productivity, such as potted cultivation, hanging gardens, and growing leafy vegetable 'towers'. Other topics include affordable nursery techniques, identifying compatible crop mixtures, eco-friendly pest management techniques, and rehabilitation of fruit trees through proper pruning. However, actually disseminating the information and delivering home garden education programmes continues to be a challenge, particularly in the face of recent funding constraints. Udaya De Silva remarks, "the response of the people for these methods is so great that they have to stay on the waiting list sometimes for their opportunity."
Beyond the model home garden, its workshops and printed material, HORDI reaches a large number of people through other channels. "We also provide an advisory service," says De Silva, "solving problems through the telephone, correspondence and personally. Potential beneficiaries are provided with home-gardening seed and planting material kits, along with printed material on home-gardening technologies."
HORDI programmes are broadcast twice a month on the National TV channel, and several live radio programmes have been created. These activities, says De Silva "help make the public aware of how they can use land, space, sunlight, rain water and other freely available resources to maximise their gardens' productivity in an economically viable and environmental friendly manner." And despite HORDI's constraints, he is confident that since the model garden was created in 1998, it has played a vital role in boosting productivity among Sri Lanka's urban farmers.
Written by: Treena Hein
Date published: March 2007
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