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Posted July 1997

Special: Empowering the rural disabled in Asia and the Pacific
Adaptive techniques for horticultural crops production by disabled people
Dr. Narong Chomchalow
Regional Plant Production Officer (Commercial Crops)
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Introduction | Women | Cambodia 1 | Cambodia 2 | Lao PDR | Sri Lanka | Thailand 1 | Thailand 2 | Vietnam 1 | Vietnam 2 | Agroindustry | Horticulture | Strategies


The merits of horticultural crops

Suitability of producing horticultural crops by disabled people

Gardening concepts and ideas for disabled people

The concept of "no-dig garden"

Esther Deans' concept of "No Dig Garden" is tailor-made for disabled people, and has wide appeal because it saves time and effort, and is friendly to the environment since it keeps the soil in good repair. She provides a variety of ideas, such as making gardens in pots, placing pots on casters and creating raised garden beds for people with mobility problems.

Wheelchair access
Paths need to be smooth and wide enough for the wheelchair, with ramps to move to different levels. Raised garden beds make it easier for disabled people who cannot bend over. A garden shed with benches at wheelchair height is recommended since when the wheelchair is placed under the bench, the work area is easily reached.

Plants in pots
For those disabled people who are not mobile enough to produce a "No Dig Garden", growing annuals, vegetables, and shrubs in pots is a solution. Consideration must be given to the weight and moveability of the pot, and to methods of watering. Light weight containers (e.g. plastic pots which look like terra-cotta made in different shape and size; fiberglass pots having the appearance of concrete, hanging baskets lined with bark or fibber, etc.) should be used.

Window boxes
Window boxes are a good way of enjoying plants and having them within reach. Flowers or plants with interesting leaves can be grown to brighten a room. Herbs can be grown to add flavour to food and drink.

Hanging baskets
Although any kinds of plants can be grown in hanging baskets, it is best to grow trailing plants. Using a long-handled hose will make watering hanging baskets much easier if you are in a wheelchair. Or simply use pulley system to lower the baskets down when needed and raise them up after the work is done.

Perfumed gardens
Aromatic plants will make your garden a perfumed paradise. This is highly recommended for the blind since they can enjoy these plants through their nose. Both flowering and leafy aromatic can be grown. Herb gardens
Culinary herbs are useful as well as attractive plants. It is best to grow them as close to the kitchen as possible to enable quick access when cooking. They can be grown in pots, used as hedges or edging plants, or as part of the general shrubbery. Medicinal herbs can also be grown in the same manner.

Commercial production of horticultural crops by disabled people


Conventional type
These are vegetables which are grown commercially by other people. They include leafy (e.g. lettuce, cabbage, spinach, morning glory, etc.), flower (e.g. cauliflower, broccoli), fruit (e.g. tomato, cucumber, pumpkin, squash, etc.), root ( Chinese radish, carrot, etc.). System of growing these vegetables should be made appropriate to disabled people.

Non-conventional type
These are plants which are not normally used as vegetables, but through new discovery or idea, they are now produced as vegetables. These are vegetable soybean (young pod of soybean consumed as snack); various kinds of seed sprouts (e.g. mungbean sprout, blackgram sprout, soybean sprout, sweetpea sprout, radish seed sprout, etc.); young fruits (e.g. baby corn, young fruits of jackfruit, watermelon, etc.). This type of vegetables normally fetch higher prices and require special growing conditions in which disabled people can accomplish.


Cut flowers
Most popular in the Region are orchids, roses, anthurium, carnation, chrysanthemum, calla lily, lilies, gerbera, heliconias, tuberoses, Curcuma, etc.

Pot plants
Many kinds for flowering plants can be grown as pot plants, e.g. roses, chrysanthemum, jasmine, petunia, bougainvillea's , Euphorbia etc.

Bulbs, corms, seeds, cuttings, graftages, etc
These planting materials of flowering plants can be produced by disabled people and normally earn better income than growing them for flowers. Special skill is needed for commercial production of these planting material, but it is not quite difficult.

Ornamental plants

Pot plants
These are the easiest thing for disabled people to make money, as there is a boom in growing ornamental plants every where. House plants of all kinds, flowering plants, garden plants, hedge plants, etc. can be grown in pots for sale by disabled people.

Trees and shrubs
These are a little bit larger size and more difficult for some disabled people. However, if he is strong enough and having access of some land, it is more profitable to grow them with less problem of selling since they are not short-lived.

Cut leaves and branches
Flower arrangement requires a large amount of cut leaves and branches like leather-leafed fern, philodendron, dracaena, crouton, springier fern, it plant, asparagus fern, yellow palm, Devalue, Pandas, etc.

These are miniature plants grown in special containers for their dwarf size. Normally their roots are trimmed to the minimum and above ground parts are twisted, trimmed, bent, etc. in specially-designed forms. They are quite long-lived and fetch quite a high price. Disabled people can be trained to produce bonsai plants for sale on a commercial basis.

Producing seedling or ornamental plants is a growing business. Various species of palm are being sold by mail order.

Seeds and other planting materials
Disabled people can be trained to produce hybrid seeds of most of the above-mentioned plants. Similarly they can be trained to produce budded or grafted plants for shrubby ornamental plants (e.g. hibiscus, roses, etc.).


Trees and shrubs
Although disabled people may not be able to grow large fruit trees or shrubs, but many who are strong enough can do, particularly if the height of the trees are not too high. The use of dwarf root stocks or dwarf plants make it possible for disabled people work with fruit trees and shrubs.

Vines and climbers
Disabled people can grow fruit crops which are vine or climbers, e.g. grape, passion fruit, etc.

These are most suitable for disabled people to grow since their size is normally small. These include watermelon, cantaloupe, honey dew, strawberry, etc.

Seeds, grafts, and other planting materials: If well-trained, disabled people can produce hybrid seeds, grafts and other planting material of most fruit trees and shrubs mentioned above.


Several kinds of edible mushrooms can be produced by disabled people. These include straw mushroom, shiitake, button mushroom, oyster mushroom, etc. Even medicinal mushroom like Gynoderma or Linzheng can be produced for sale. Such operation requires much less space than other produces and does not require too much labour, while the produces are salable at a relatively high price.

Herbs and spices

These two related groups of aromatic plants are quite suitable to be grown by disabled people as they are normally small, do nor require large area for production, but need intensive care during the entire period of growth. The income obtained from these plants is quite high, provided that quality is maintained.

Special considerations for choosing horticultural crops by disabled people

Be opportunists

Produce crops which are on demand in time and place: Produce crops which require special techniques/care
Crops which are easily produced fetch low price in contrast to those which require special techniques or care. Thus it is advisable to produce such crops in order to obtain higher price. Multi-coloured flowering plants and multiple varieties of crops on the same plants (produced by grafting) are good examples of such crops.

Advertise commodities as "Produced by Disabled People"
Most customers are sympathetic with disabled people. They are most willing to help by buying the commodities produced by disabled people. If the commodities are produced through organic farming (as is the case of No Dig Garden), they should also be advertised to obtain premium price.

Crops to be chosen

High value
Disabled people cannot compete with other people if they grow low-value crops.

High input/technology
Similarly, crops which are provided with high input or technology will fetch higher price or income than those which do not have such treatment.

High yield/quality
Following high input or technology, it is expected that the produces are of higher yield and/or quality./ Thus, it is natural that they fetch higher prices from the customers.

Easily marketable
Commodities produced by disabled people should be readily marketable. Try to avoid those which are easily perishable, or require special post-harvest treatments, unless they are paid a premium price.


Healing qualities of gardening

Gardening, whether performed by normal or disabled people, whether for hobby or for career, certainly helps the gardeners both physically and mentally. With numerous reported cases of the therapeutic value of gardening, it is logical to take the concept a step further by stressing the healing qualities of gardening, particularly for those who are being disturbed by disability, chronic illness, or other mental disturbances.

Other related products

Disabled people, while producing horticultural crops, can also produce other products which are related to horticultural crop production. These include: Propagating materials In practice, disabled people can grow desirable varieites of crops in convenient site and perform grafting, using rootstocks grown in plastic bag with coir dust as medium. When grafting is done, the bag is tied to the branch of the mother plants for a period of time (normally about 2 months) until the graft takes. The graft is then removed from the mother plant and tramsfer to a larger bag. It is kept in the nursery for about a month. It is ready for sale.

Compost and potting soil


With proper planning and determination, gardening can do wonders to disabled people, whether for a pleasure or for a career. In the gardens where disabled people are working, the words like "handicapped" or "disabled" cannot be applied to these people, since they are "HANDI-CAPABLE", i.e. able to use their hands to work effectively in the gardens.

Empowering the rural disabled: Introduction | Women | Cambodia 1 | Cambodia 2 | Lao PDR | Sri Lanka | Thailand 1 | Thailand 2 | Vietnam 1 | Vietnam 2 | Agroindustry | Horticulture | Strategies

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