Sustainability of home gardens

Home gardens can be sustainable production systems, but usually only under low-input and low-yield conditions. For example, the home gardens of the Chagga, on Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), represent ecologically sustainable land-use systems, but their productivity is relatively low and needs to be increased if they are expected to support larger populations (Fernandes et al. 1989). Migration of young people to urban areas has disrupted the traditional transmission of the knowledge and experience required for the successful management and perpetuation of the complex multi-cropping system. Availability of fertilizers has decreased the need for organic manures, thus greatly reducing labor inputs in home gardens and therefore reducing nutrient recycling processes. If home gardens are to be used to raise the standard of living of people to satisfactory levels, the question arises whether the yield and the income can be increased without sacrificing their sustainability.

Agrosilvopastoral systems - the combination of timber, fuelwood, or fruit trees with animals, with or without crops - are practiced at many scales. A large-scale system may include timber plantations with grazing to control weeds and to obtain a more immediate return from the sale of animal products. Cattle-raising can also complement subsistence agriculture, with animals often integrated in home gardens or in systems of fodder production to feed animals in stables (Montagnini 1992). In some regions, the incorporation of trees - especially multiple-purpose trees (MPTS) - can change cattle-raising from an inefficient use of land to a more ecologically and economically feasible activity. The incorporation of trees can improve system productivity either by increasing pasture yields through more efficient nutrient recycling or through the production of fodder from leaves and fruits (Gill et al. 1990; Cobbina 1994/1995). The introduction of cattle in plantations, generally when the trees are large enough so that cattle cannot damage them, can be a more efficient use of land than plantations alone. Cattle can also help to control weeds, as in a taungya system, and the early economic returns from cattle products help to pay for the costs of reforestation (Montagnini et al. 2003; Fig. 6.12). In some cases, young calves are preferred over adult cattle because they cannot damage the trees as easily. The smaller animals also decrease soil compaction problems. Some tree species are more preferred by cattle for browsing; cattle can also damage young trees when they scratch against them or strip their bark.

Fig. 6.12. Agrosilvopastoral system of a young plantation of a native timber tree (Hieronyma alchorneoides), grazed by young calves (beef cattle) on a farm near Horquetas in the Atlantic lowlands of Costa Rica. No pasture species were planted under the trees, the calves are grazing natural grasses. (Photo: M. Padovan)

Fig. 6.12. Agrosilvopastoral system of a young plantation of a native timber tree (Hieronyma alchorneoides), grazed by young calves (beef cattle) on a farm near Horquetas in the Atlantic lowlands of Costa Rica. No pasture species were planted under the trees, the calves are grazing natural grasses. (Photo: M. Padovan)

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