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The undulating topography in the low lying dry zone has traditionally been utilised to grow short-duration comparatively drought-resistant crops of coarse grains, grain legumes, oil crops and vegetables on the highland. The cultivation has followed ‘slash and burn’ methods to clear the land of natural vegetation, reduce the focus of insect pests and fertilise the soil. Large trees were left intact for setting up watch-huts and smaller trees were chopped down to breast height to re-sprout. Since the dryzone receives rains during the Northeast monsoon, the land preparation was completed before its normal onset in November. This form of cultivation was named ‘chena’ (earlier called ‘hena’). The practice of the chena cultivation dates back to the early tribal communities in Sri Lanka, and later adopted by settlers who arrived from India around 3rd century B.C.

Women traditionally have played a key role in determining the seed combinations to be sown each year. Since the success of crops depended upon the vagaries of nature, the women to minimise the risk of food shortage, the women took complete charge of cultivating coarse grains, especially ‘kurakkan’ (Eleusine coracana) right from seed sowing to harvest, threshing and storing the grains. Even a modest harvest of coarse grains during a bad year would ensure the minimal food and nutrient requirements to survive. In tribal societies the women had been the master conductors of the entire operation. During the British period, chena cultivation was discouraged, especially in hilly areas, for reasons of damage to forests and wildlife and the increase in soil erosion. The tribals were ejected out of the wet zone and had to move into the dry zone in the eastern regions. Other communities were discouraged from ‘slash and burn’ cultivation.

But there is no denying to the fact that chena cultivation in association with lowland mono cropping of rice paddies and a home garden had helped in providing a wider food and nutritional base for a farm family, keeping hunger and malnutrition in abeyance. Today, nearly 18 percent of the land area, amounting to 1.2 m ha, is under chena cultivation, and about 250 000 farm families depend upon it for their livelihood. Even though chena is a low-intensity land use, it produces about 80 percent of the country's coarse grains, legumes and vegetables (Baldwin, 1991).

Presently, with increases in population pressure, demarcation of forestry and wildlife conservation areas and opening of new settlement schemes under major Mahaweli and Walwe Ganga and other river valley projects, the land available for traditional chena cultivation has been in decline. The chena cycle has changed from an 8–10 year to a 1–2 year fallow period interval. A growing number of chena cultivators are even raising Yala as well as Maha crops annually by using innovative irrigation practices. In the Ratnapura - Deniyaya area, the traditional chena fields are being converted into small owner tea plantations, for the benefit of a better market price of this export crop. Elsewhere there is a growing emphasis on vegetable cultivation for a ready market and high returns. This shift has also brought a change in gender roles.

This change has been facilitated by the induction of new farm practices, to compensate for the poor-ash based nutrient in the field by inorganic fertilisers, pesticides and water from dug-wells and drains by portable diesel sets to grow crops during the non-monsoon season. Women have continued to play their traditional role in managing the cultivation of coarse grains. Men have taken charge of crops like banana and vegetables because of their high market value. The emergence of the market economy has been an important factor in altering gender roles and reducing the position of women to that of farm labour rather than planners and managers as in the past.

The agricultural practices concerning crop preference have been undergoing major changes during the recent decades. The changes were brought in by (i) the expansion of irrigation facilities, (ii) introduction of high yielding varieties of paddy and other crops, (iii) gradual mechanisation of farm operations; (iv) increased use of an inorganic fertilisers, weedicide-pesticide combinations, and (v) the building of a regional and export-oriented agricultural market economy.

This section presents an overview of the conditions and changes in the production systems that influences the community participation and gender roles. The cropping systems considered here are: rice paddies, Chena cultivation and home garden. The illustrative depiction of the crop arrangement in the three systems in relation to homestead is presented in Figure 7. The gender roles vary in these systems.

Figure 7

Figure 7

7.1 A general of view of participation by crop system

Summaries of the community participation and gender roles in the three farming systems are presented in Table 2. These responsibilities of men and women are later examined set in the context of changes that have occurred through introduction technology and development investments.

Table 2. Agricultural systems and participation by community and gender roles
 Chena Fields Rice Paddies Home Gardens
CommunityLand selection, slashing - crop protection hunting of wild animals for meat; fishing from tanks (Men) Decisions regarding the crop variety related to monsoon expectancy. Determining auspicious time for land preparation, sowing and harvesting of crop NIL
MenBurning, land preparation, sowing, fencing of plot, maintenance of fence, crop protection from wild animals, harvesting of vegetable and miscellaneous. Crops Land preparation, seed sowing, use of weedicides, application of fertilisers pesticides, threshing, winnowing by machines; carrying harvest home; marketing Plucking fruits from coconut, tapping sap from kitul, harvesting fruits, spices, coffee, picking tea leaves, transporting home garden products and the market
WomenWeeding, Crop combination, Harvesting of coarse grains, threshing, winnowing, cleaning, storage for home use and seeds, for next years crop. Puddling, Transplanting, weeding (if weedicides have not been used) carrying meals, tea to field for labour and men of the family, arranging for female labour, on payment or exchange basis. Cleaning fallen leaves, making compost, watering plants, sowing vegetables, cleaning, drying of fruits, seeds and storing for home use and seeds for next years' crop, kitul, making of jaggery, cakes and treacle

7.2 Changing agricultural practices by crops

Sri Lanka has introduced planned interventions to improve agriculture productivity, these include new technologies and production techniques. These have impacted the production processes and household level responsibilities as reviewed in this section.

7.2.i Rice paddies and irrigation schemes

The increase in irrigation facilities through traditional expansion and renovation of storage reservoir, river diversion and lift irrigation schemes has extended the irrigated acreage to by 200 000 ha. Besides, the large multipurpose Mahaweli Ganga Scheme provided a major thrust to further expand irrigation facilities to over 400 000 ha. Another major irrigation scheme on the Walwe Ganga in the southern region has opened new avenues for settlements in the irrigated areas in the dry zone. Taken together, these schemes may irrigate most of the dry zone area from Humbantota District in the South to Vavunia (Northwest), Anuradhapura (North-Central) Polonaruwa, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts (Southeast).

The major and minor development schemes in the dry zone have opened new areas for agricultural operation and human settlements. These schemes, with their socio-economic development programmes, encourage crop diversification as per land capability. Other influencing factors are enterprises and socio-economic development, assisted by income generation and infra-structural development of roads, electricity, housing, and education and health facilities. This phase of development generated around irrigation schemes, which brought changes in the landuse. However, one of the important adverse impacts has resulted in the destruction of natural ecosystems and wildlife. This impact was partly compensated by the development of protected areas in the form of national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

In order to improve paddy production, new fertiliser-responsive varieties were introduced which along with the use of herbicides-cum-pesticides inputs, helped in lifting the yield to 3.6 MT/ha. (Gunasena, 1997). It made the cultivation of low yielding traditional paddy varieties comparatively uneconomical. Although the paddy yields increased, higher cost of inputs reduced the profit margin. The place of shared labour by farm families was taken over by hired labour. It further added to the cost of paddy production at less lucrative returns.

The entry of fertilisers and pesticides into the reservoirs in certain areas encouraged growth of aquatic weeds such as Salvinia and Typha and caused a decline in the fresh-water fish population. The introduction of weedicides, mechanised ploughing, threshing, and winnowing further reduced on-farm employment opportunities for poor farmers and landless people. Since women labour was traditionally utilised for weeding, harvesting and winnowing their employment opportunity has sharply declined.

The Mahaweli Economic Agency in Walwe Ganga encouraged new crop combinations on the basis of land capability in the settlement areas. In the south and the southeastern dry zone, improved clones of different banana varieties, a cash crop have been introduced. This has led to a major spurt in earnings per acre, compensating poor returns on paddy cultivation. To encourage sugarcane production elsewhere, cost-free irrigation has been provided to farmers for five years. Women labourers have an only limited role in employment in sugarcane cultivation.

a. Poor rural women groups - Walwe Ganga settlement area

Keeping in view the unemployment problem among farm women in the Walwe Ganga Settlement Area, the Mahaweli Economic Agency (MEA) has encouraged the formation of women's association. The women's association groups were to help their members to organise shared farm-labour in each other's fields for sowing, weeding, harvesting, etc. The Management Agriculture Operations in MEA arranged to provide 40 kg of good-quality paddy seed free of cost to women's groups for multiplication. These associations also provide modest loans of Rs.2 000 to Rs.5 000 per member, out of a central pool created by members, contributions. In Embilipitiya, about one hundred women organised themselves into twelve groups. The loans are utilised for opening a boutique, selling items of daily use; fruits, vegetables, cold drinks, tea, etc. Along the roadside or as an extension of the homegarden. The association also helps widows, and single women and settles marital discords.

b. Changing agricultural practices and trends in women's role

The gradual commercialisation of agriculture involving a new range of agricultural practices reduced the traditional role of women. Since the emergence of seed companies, the role of women in seed selection and seed storage and planning a strategy for crop combinations has become marginal. Male members have taken over the responsibility for deciding crop combinations of say paddy and banana and also marketing of the produce. Since, large amounts of money enters into the hand of the family, a major part of it is deposited in the bank. The bank account is invariably in the name of the husband. The wife's role has been relegated to home, activities related to the homegarden and occasional manual help on the farm. In case the family has a boutique, it is run by female members. Money earned is spent on the purchase of a mobike, electric fan, furniture, electronic items, crockery and other household items. From the field visits, a correlation was found that higher the family income, more subordinate is the role of the female members.

7.2.ii New crop combinations in wet zone areas

In the lowland areas of the wet zone, the plantation crops of smallholdings such as coconut and rubber have been combined with paddy cultivation. In mid and up-country areas, rubber and tea plantations of lowland small holding, have become highly remunerative. But near Ratnapura area, frequently paddy fields lying fallow have been observed.

The harvest of tealeaves and seasonal haul of various spices, both export oriented crops, have provided high economic return. The Government has encouraged the farmers with low holdings, as these add substantially to tea and rubber production. The tea and rubber plantations have become a source of regular income. The tea processing factories buy the graded tealeaves from small tea growers. Tealeaf harvesting, grading and transport to tea processing factory have evolved into a smoothly working system, involving tea grower, grader and transporter. In the entire process, the women besides tea picking help in general management looking after home garden etc. However, the men play major role in decision-making, marketing and finances.

7.2.iii Changes in Chena cultivation

The chena cultivation is practised extensively in the dry and arid zone areas of Sri Lanka, covering about 18 percent of the cultivated land area. It is being practised on high land portion of the undulating landform in low country. Its main features were:

7.2.iv Recent trends in Chena cultivation

The increase in the rural population, reduction in the forested areas, new settlement areas in newly created irrigation zones, have brought changes in the mode of Chena cultivation. The slash and burn periodicity gap from a minimum gap of 8–10 years has been reduced to a one yearly cycle, thereby reducing the ash content obtained mainly from non-woody plants. Therefore, the farmers have taken recourse to inorganic fertilisers. Pesticide use has also been initiated.

Certain chena crops have shown declining trends in the last 15 years of production and area under cultivation. The production declined considerably in case of Kurakkan, Maneri, Sorghum, Dhall, Gingelly, Cow pea, Sweet potatoes and Mustard. Greengram and Potato production have also declined, though not drastically. Paddy and Maize production have increased and chilly production has more than doubled during the season. Obviously, cropping pattern are changing adversely and are becoming concentrated on crops like paddy and maize. This is also substantiated by a count of the area under cultivation. In most cases acreage have been reduced (Statistical Abstracts, Department of Census and Statistics, Ministry of Finance and Planning, Sri Lanka, 1996).

Such a serious fall in output and cropped area have serious negative implications for conservation of the genetic base. Moreover, some of these crops are also the ones that have high nutritious and medicinal value. For example, consumption of millet is considered by people as health food for those suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes, besides its high protein and mineral content. For nutrition and health security of the household, a diversity of crops has to be maintained if not enhanced. One way of ensuring conservation of these cultivars is by establishing market links with up-country super-markets and large departmental stores that deal in organic and other health foods. This would automatically increase the economic stake in conservation. The vanishing trend of domestic cultivars in favour of paddy, maize or other mono-cropping patterns can thus be reversed.

Expansion of irrigation facilities in the coming years is likely to limit chena cultivation. In the Walwe Ganga left bank scheme command area new settlements will be opened in the arid zone of Humbantota district in the S.E. region. However, by introducing new technologies of rainwater harvesting and scientific water management, the changing practice of chena cultivation carries with itself the potential of high agricultural productivity and higher farm incomes. Its continuation may help in continued cultivation of millet and other traditional crops of high nutritive value and a wide genetic base.

7.2.v Highland crops in Chena cultivation

Chena cultivation has played a crucial role in in-situ on-farm conservation of germplasm of traditional crops. The crops mentioned above have a wide genetic base in the form of local cultivars grown in different parts of the dry and arid zones. The farm family women engaged in highland crop cultivation have played the role of gene pool conservators. A list of chena crops is given below in Table 3.

Table 3. List of Chena crops
 Common English NameScientific NameLocal Name
ACoarse Grains  
1.Finger MilletEleusine coracanaKurakkan
2.MilletPanicum miliaceumMeneri,
3.Foxtail MilletSetaria italicaThanabal, Thane
4.Koda MilletPaspalum scrobiculatumVaragu
5.MaizeZea mays 
6.SorghumSorghum bicolor 
BGrain Legumes  
1.CowpeaVigna unguiculataKaramani
2.GreengramV. RadiataMung; Uthulu
3.BlackgramV. MungoUrd; Ulundu
4.GhurushV. Umbellata 
5.GroundnutArachis hypogea 
6.Pigeon peaCajanus CajanTur dhall, Ulundu
7.Lanka kadala  
8.SoyabeanGlycine max 
COil Crops  
1.SesameSesamum indicumGingely, Thala
2.MustardBrassica campestris 
1.CabbageBrassica oleracea var. Capitata 
3.CucumberCucumis sativus 
4.PumpkinCucurbita moschataVataka
5.WatermelonCitrulus lanatus 
6.BrinjalSolanum melongena 
7.BittergourdMimordica charantiaKararila
8.SnakegourdTrichosanthes anguina 
9.Green beans  
10.String beans  
11.Winged beans  
13.TomatoLycopersicon esculentum 
14.Ridge gourdLuffa acutangula 
15.Sponge gourdLuffa aegyptica 
16.Lady's fingerAbelmoscus esculentumOkra
17.TurnipBrassica rapa 
EWith tuber and other rootstocks  
1.CassavaManihot esculenta 
2.Sweet potatoIpomoea batatus 
FSmall-scale Plantation Crops  
GTobacco Gender roles in Chena cultivation

Women have continued to play a traditional and important role in chena cultivation. There has been considerable increase in vegetable cultivation for reason of high returns from an expanding market. The mode of cultivation has therefore played an important role in the conservation of genetic diversity in traditional crop varieties. It could be considered as in-situ on-farm conservation. The continuation of chena with changed practice may help in continuing this process. Gender roles of men and women in Chena cultivation is presented in Table 4.

 Table 4. Gender roles in Chena cultivation (slash and burn cultivation)
Today's Rural
1. Land preparation    
2. Crop combination decision-++-+
3. Sowing    
 A.Vegetable, oil seeds-+++-
B.Coarse grain-++-+
4. Weeding-++-+
5. Protection against     
 A.Birds, wild boar, small animals+++++
6. Harvesting    
 A.Vegetable and oil seeds+++++
B.Coarse grain-++-+
C.Threshing winnowing-++-+
7. Transport of harvest++-+-
8. Marketing of harvestHome consumption+++
9. Selection of seeds-++ +
10. Storage    
C.Processing of vegetables and other-+   
11. Technological inputs    
 A.Pumps for waterNANA+-
B.Mechanised winnowingNANA+-
C.New varieties vegetable crops  +-

7.2.vii Significance of wilderness areas to Chena cultivators

The new phase of chena cultivation would require new policies and a framework for converting the land use pattern towards high economic returns while protecting the natural forests and wildlife. The former can be achieved by developing water-harvesting and water-conserving technologies for the limited rainy season, in the form of dugwells and similar structures and the economic use of the meagre water resources by using new-generation water-saving irrigation technologies. Ecologically sound planning would create areas of wilderness under the collective management of the farm-families. For these latter would be most affected by the loss of natural resources.

In the arid-zone, what apparently looks like a thorny jungle to a developer in fact is a vast pool of useful genes, which control drought-resistance and also help in drought evasion They are also a reservoir of useful drugs. This thorny scrub flora belongs to the Afro-Arabia-Iranian floristic realm, highly specialised with adaptation to withstand aridity. The scrub forests with sparsely placed medium height trees are incidentally the ideal home of wildlife such as spotted deer, sambhar, wild pig, jungle fowl, lizards and other reptiles. These forests also provide a large number of medicinal plants such as Aralu (Terminalia chebula), Bulu (T. Belerica), Kumbuk (T. Arjuna), Nelli (Phyllanthus emblica), Eramasu (Hemidesmus indicus), (Kadumboda (Diospyros melanoxylon, coromandel ebony), Polpala (Aerva lanata), Him.himbutu-wel (Salacia prinoides), Bin kohamba (Munronia pumila), Kohomba (Azadirachta indica) and others. Since these plant species are not cultivated, there is a grave danger for their survival as they are the part of what is referred to as a jungle, which could be cleared without remorse.

The dry and dry zone areas frequently experience below-normal N.E. monsoons, affecting lowland paddy cultivation and also the highland crops, causing extensive food shortages. One farmer was able to grow paddy after a lapse of four years near Anuradhapura for the reason of poor rains. The village tanks did not store enough water for irrigation. In such a distressing situation, landless and poor farm families pick up edible wild plants for food from the nearby forests. A proper assessment of these natural resources for their economic, ecological and genetic value would help evolve a sound development and management policy for future land-use in the highlands.

Women in rural areas have developed extensive knowledge of the dry-arid zone flora. The local Sinhala and Tamil names of different plant species for day-to-day use were given by the women, for the reason of their frequent visit to the forests to pick up plants for food, medicine, oils, and natural dyes, handicrafts and other needs at home. This reservoir of indigenous knowledge about flora available with the farm-families should be utilised while preparing ecologically sound management plans.

7.2.viii Critical role of women in home gardens

A home garden is a cluster of economically important trees shrubs, climbers and herbs, which are grown around a homestead. The concept evolved during the medieval period and since then has become an integral part of the agricultural system in Sri Lanka. A home garden along with rice paddies on lowland and chena cultivation on highland met the complete food and nutritional requirements of the farm family settled in the vicinity of the village tank (Figure 8). The success of this concept can be measured from the fact that all over the country about one million ha are covered by homegardens, with maximum density in the wet zone. In Table 5 the different plant species frequently grown in wet-zone home garden is presented. The home gardens, as illustrated by the plant variety are both the reservoirs of plant diversity and sources of food security.

Since early development took place mainly in the dry zone, plants species occurring in the nearby forests were grown. Superior quality trees and shrubs from the wilderness were selected to meet food and medicinal needs. The ayurvedic system practised by Buddhist monks harvested its herbal medicines from the familiar evergreen monsoon forests and xeric scrub woods. Among the food plants, coconut, jackfruit, beli, tamarind, wood-apple, banana, citrus, etamba (Mangifera zeylancia), amba (M. Indica) drumsticks (Moringa oleifera), nelli (Amla; Phyllanthus amblica), etc. gradually became the most commonly grown plants. Kohamba (Neem) was grown for its medicinal properties. A mango tree was commonly planted near the house, for people believed that it warded off lightening. A similar function was attributed to ‘Myila’ (Bauhinia racemosa), which is also valued for its medicinal properties.

The basic reason for their introduction was the food, medicine and cultural values of the plants. Certain plants were introduced for they were the abode or favourite of certain Gods and certain others were avoided as trees of bad omen. For example, the ebony tree (Diospyros ebenum) was an abode of evil spirits, for no animal was ever found living on this tree. It was not introduced even though, its wood was preferred for various household purposes, (Vitarana and Withanage, 1993). The cultivation of timber plants and others, which were easily available from the nearby forests, were also not cultivated in the early days of homegarden development. The cluster of trees and shrubs around the home improved the immediate environment, providing shade and keeping temperature low.

Table 5. An illustrative list of plants grown in wet zone home garden
Sr. No.NameBotanical Name
 A. Fruit Trees:  
1.Avocado Persia americana
2.Areca nut Areca catechu
3.Amberrala* Spondious dulcis
4.Bread fruitrata delArctocarpus altilis
5.Jak A. Heterophyllus
6.Coconut Cocos nucifera
7.Banana Musa sapientum var. Ambul
8.Beli* Aegle marmelos
9.Durian Durio zibethinus
10.MangoambaMangifera indica
11.Etamba* Mangifera zeylanica
12.Kitul Caryota urens
13.Mangosteen Garcinia mangostana
14.Rambutan Nephalium lappaceum
15.Pomegranate Punica granatum
16.Passion fruit  
17.Rose Appleweli-JamboSyzygium jambos
18.GuavaperaPsidium guajava
19.Wood AppledivulLimonia acidissima
20.Lawulu Crysophyllum lanceolatum
21.Papaya Carica papaya
22.Custard AppleAnona, sini-atthaAnnona squamosa
23.Lime Citrus x aurantiifolia
24.Lemon Citrus x limon
25.Pomelo Citrus grandis
26.Cashew NutcajuAnacardium occidentale
27.Billing Auroria bilinghi
 B. Spices and Condiments: 
1.CinnamonkurunduCinnamomum verum
2.Cardamom Elatteria cardamomum;
   E. Ensal var. Major
3.ClovekarabunetiSyzigium aromaticum
4.NutmegsadikkaMyristica fragrans
5.Black pepperGam-mirisPiper nigrum
6.GorakakokatiaGarcinia morella
7.Ginger Zinziber officinale
8.Turmeric Curcuma longa
9.CurryleafkarapinchaMurraya koenigii
10.Rampeh Pandanus amaryllifolius
 C. Timber Trees: 
1.Mahogeny Swietenia macrophylla
2.Nadun Pericopsis mooniei
3.Linu-midella Melia dubia
4.Halmilatrincomalle timberBerrya cordifolia
5.ThekkateakTectona grandis
6.Domba Callophyllum inophyllum
7.Sapu Michelia champaca
8.Ruk attana Alstonia scholaris

With the passage of time, traders introduced new economically important plant species from India and other countries. Later on the colonial powers - Portuguese, Dutch and British - introduced plants from far-away tropical countries. Important introductions were guava, cassava, cashewnut and papaya. During the British colonial period plantation crops, new fruit and spice plants were brought into cultivation. These introductions added to the diversity of the economically important flora, which became an integral part of a home garden, especially in the wet zone.

The home gardens became the avenue for the introduction of genetically superior plants drawn from a wider gene pool. The home gardens in a way were early genetic storehouses, which provided an opportunity for ex-situ conservation on-farm. Human society then was not conscious of the significance of its conservation efforts, for it could not visualise the massive destruction of forests and associated wildlife in times to come.

In recent times, plantations crops of tea, coffee, coca, rubber are also grown as parts of the home garden. Increasingly restrictions on deforestation have encouraged the people to grow high-value timber trees such as mahogany, teak, satinwood and others.

With an increased range of highvalue economically important plants grown, a homegarden has become a source of regular income to the owner, besides meeting the needs of the family. The other agricultural crop plants which were subjected to vagaries of nature, pests - pathogen attacks and marketing anomalies, provided only seasonal income. The composite homegarden-cum-paddy cultivation has improved the financial prospects of the farmer. There is a regular inflow of income from the sale of home garden produce.

By growing foreign-trade destined spices, tea, coffee, rubber and coconut, the home garden economy has been commercialised. The State Agriculture Department and others are often providing cost-free superior clones to replace those already in cultivation. Also, depending upon the demand and supply-related variations in market price, the growers try to change the composition of plants depending on demand. The wide genetic base, which existed earlier, is also narrowing down. The home garden has become a booming commercial enterprise, especially in wet zone. The gender role, however, has shifted, where the men manage the marketing.

Women have continued to play the key role in the management of home gardens. The produce of dry-zone home gardens is comparatively limited for climatic reasons for, but strive to be of high commercial value. After meeting the family's needs, the surplus fruits, such as coconut, papaya, banana, and cashewnut are sold in small roadside stalls and weekly village markets, mainly run by the women. The stalls also sell pillows and mattresses with attractive designs, made by women at home.

The homesteads are located, on the hill slopes, above the paddy fields. Kandyan home gardens offer good example of a man-made replica of a natural ecosystem, in the arrangement of different plant species and conservation of genetic diversity. The Kitul trees (Caryota urens) which played an important role in the homegarden economy, by providing jaggery and treacle thick honey coloured sugary juice called kitul honey is gradually losing ground.

7.2.ix Home gardens - main features

  1. The concept of the home garden was conceived and developed by women. Initially plants of food, medicinal and cultural value were introduced from the nearby forests.

  2. Home gardens serve the purpose of meeting day-to-day requirements, and to supplement staple food.

  3. Home gardens provide food security during below normal rainy periods.

  4. The gradual process of introduction of new plant from other countries, increased genetic diversity.

  5. Frequent exchange of superior-plant species among farm families further helped in species diversification and created conditions for natural hybridisation. Further selections continuously led to genetic improvement. Women made significant contributions to this process.

  6. Home gardens provide the habitat to a variety of natural flora and fauna.

  7. Fallen leaves, flowers, fruits, twigs serve as good sources of homemade compost.

  8. Surplus fruit and other products provide monetary benefits to the family. Women manage the sales at roadside stalls close to the homesteads and through village markets.

  9. Introduction of high-value fruit trees, spices and plantation crops help the farm family to an indirect access to the export-crop market through large commercial plantations.

  10. Higher levels of income helped the farm families to avoid taking loans at high interest rates from commission agents, for the home gardens provide more or less a regular income.

  11. Home garden income help to raise the standard of living. Some of these farmers often live in a well furnished home with modern amenities. The families invariably own a motorbike for transportation. The children are able to go on to higher education in technical schools and colleges. However, this situation exists mainly in the wet zone. In the low and mid-country home garden's high earnings came from tea, high-value fruits and spices. The up-country home gardens earn through high-value spice, tea, coffee and fruits.

  12. Women still control management of home gardens. The men of the family, however, do the marketing.

  13. Government agencies dealing with agriculture and plantation crops are attempting to provide genetically superior clones to replace the older ones of indifferent quality and yields. Although it may be a welcome move, it also threatens to diminish the larger gene pool representation in home gardens.

7.2.x A case study in home garden management and food security

The importance of home garden in achieving food security for a Sri Lankan rural family is illustrated in the case study presented here.

Case 3
Making a living within a home garden
A wet zone home garden
A farmer wife Mrs Kumari and her husband, own three fourth of an acre of land on a gentle slope, along the Colombo-Nuwara Eliya road. Theirs is an extended family of eight members, which includes aged parents, the wife's unmarried brother and sister, and two daughters. The elder one of 11-year age goes to school.
The piece of land was an abandoned part of a nearby tea estate. Along with the land, the family had acquired about 1 000 old tea bushes. The home garden has a great diversity of economically important plant species (30 species) grown on a limited space for use at home and commercial purposes. It included fruit bearing trees, vegetables, medicinal plants, tea and flowers. Irrigation is done by drawing water by a pipe from a small hill stream, running close to the home garden. The details of the plants grown by this family and their uses are presented below in the Table 6.
Home garden manuring practices adopted by the family
Fallen leaves and other vegetable matter are turned into compost. The latter is mixed with cow dung procured from outside, and used in growing vegetables and in flowerbeds. Inorganic fertilizer in form of a balanced NPK mixture was purchased from the market in 1 kg. packets, costing Rs.16/- per packet. Families would use about 15 packs for mainly fertilizing the tea bushes. To check the growth of insect-pests and fungal pathogens on vegetables, flowers and tea bushes, pesticides are used, about 16 oz of pesticides are used for 5 sprayings during the year, costing around Rs.100/-. The total cost of fertiliser and pesticide would come around Rs.350 for the year.
Home garden and family economics
The entire sales of products from the home garden in form of seasonal fruits, flowers, kitul jaggery and honey (treacle) were done in the roadside shops. Besides, family would buy fruits like banana and cut flowers from the market and sell with reasonable profit. The earnings from the shop provide Rs.3 000/- to Rs.4 500/- per month. The wife, aged parents and other members attend the shop.
A grown up daughter helps after school hours. The tealeaves are picked by family members, twice every 10–15 days, and sold to the tea-processing factory at the rate of Rs.15–20 per kg. to supplement the family income, the husband works as a part-time labourer at the nearby Tea Estate for 15–20 days per month and receives Rs.110/- as wage for a day's work, thus contributing around Rs.2 000/- per month to family earnings.
Household expenses are incurred in buying rice, dried fish, and eggs, cooking oil, curry powder and kerosene oil. The fuelwood requirement is partially met from the home garden. Total expenditure varies between Rs.3 000 to Rs.4 500/- per month.
The family is able to save some money for use in emergency and for the purchase of clothes for the members and festival time gifts to the relatives. For the children's education, the Government gave Rs. 500/-.
Procurement of seeds and storage for home garden
The family purchases seeds of vegetables and flowers from the market after an interval of 2–3 years. The women would select the ripe fruits for seeds, dry and clean and treat them with insecticide powder. The seeds are kept in polythene bags and stored in a wooden box kept in the kitchen, above the hearth, to save it from high humidity during the monsoon seasons.
Economic sustainability through home garden
The home-garden-cum-roadside shop helps the family to sustain itself economically. The diversity of plants grown for food, in addition of what is procured from the market, not only keeps the hunger away, but also provides a nutritionally balanced diet. Plant species like ‘gotukola’ and ‘aruda’ were domesticated from the wild state and thus conserved usefully. The men and women work in harmony under a reasonable division of labour. The women manage tasks related to the home garden, look after the roadside shop, beside doing the household jobs of cooking, washing clothes, cleaning the house, looking after children.

Table 6. Details of the plants grown in the home garden and their use
 Common NameLocal NameNo.Use
AFruit Trees   
1.AvocadoAligata8Sold in road side shop
2.Banana clumps 3Sold in road side shop
3.MangoAmba1Home use
4.MandrinNaran1Home use
5.Ketul palm (Caryota Urens)Ketul4Jaggery & treacle sold in the road side shop
6.GuavaPera1Sold in road side shop
7.Lowulu (Chrysophyllum lanceotalum) 1Sold in road side shop
8.CoconutPol3Used at home and also sold
9.PomegranateDelun2Used at home and also sold
10.Jak (Artocarpus heterophyllus)Kos2Used at home and also sold
BPlantation Crop   
1.Tea bushes 1 000Tea leaves sold in Tea factory
1.Radish Small bedsHome use
2.Tomato ""
3.Brinjal ""
4.Beans ""
5.Mustard ""
6.Calocasia ""
DMisc. Plant Species   
1.Maize Ca 50Home use
2.Sugar cane clumps 7Home use
EFlowers: Grown in small beds   
1.Dahlia (Suckers) 20Roadside shop
2.Paper flower 10Roadside shop
3.Carnations 30Roadside shop
4.Gladiolus 10Roadside shop
5.Rose bushes 7Roadside shop
FMedicinal Plants   
1.Gotukola (Centella asiatica)1 sq.m. Area Home use, Tonic, and as a green vegetable for gruel making
2.Ginger5 Clumps Cough, Cold and fever
3.Castor oil plants 3Oil used for massage
4.Aruda (Ruta graveolens) 4A tonic for hair growth and body pain
5.Anoda (a small climber with white flower) 3For fever

The men prepare the crop beds, climb the coconut and kitul trees for picking fruit and tapping the sap. Women would spend time to thicken the kitul sap for jaggery and treacle. Men go to the market for purchasing banana and other fruits and flowers for the roadside shop. Occasionally, women would accompany men to work on daily wages in the nearby tea estate to earn extra money, near festival times. The housewife keeps the money and any major expense is made after consultation. This modest, fairly well managed homegarden enterprise provides economic security as well as food security through availability of nutritionally balanced food to the family. Incidentally, it also preserves the genetic diversity, by growing plant species drawn from varying genetic stock and by domesticating useful but comparatively rare wild plants like ‘aruda’ (Ruta graveolens).

7.2.xi Gender roles in small holding plantations

The new trend toward smallholding tea plantations of a hectare or less land developed by farm families in the mid, and up-country, of wet and intermediate zones have become very popular. The high value crop adds substantially and regularly to farm family earnings. Fairly efficient systems for the collection of the harvest at small growers' tea holdings have come to being. The day's harvest in large perforated coir or plastic bags, is brought down to the collection point, where from it is picked up by small trucks and carried to a privately run grading centre. The bags containing the graded tea are delivered to a tea-processing factory. The growers receive payments on a weekly basis as determined by for the quality and quantity of tealeaves. The gender roles in small holder tea plantation are presented in Table 7.

Table 7. Gender roles in crops on small-scale plantation owned by small farmers
CropsMale RolesFemale Roles
BananaHarvesting, MarketingCleaning
Cutting old plants after fruiting;Cutting old leaves
Irrigation, mulchingWeeding
Collection of sap 
Marketing at collection centres 
TeaPicking of leaves, PruningPicking of leaves
Packing in coir bagsCleaning
SpiceHarvest of nutmeg, CinnamonHarvest of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon
TrimmingCleaning, Drying, Storing

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