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
- High-value commodities: Horticultural crops including vegetables, flowers,
ornamental plants, fruits, mushrooms, herbs and spices are high-value crops
as compared to cereals and other field crops.
- Adaptive to urban/sub-urban areas of production: Production of
horticultural crops which requires less areas but intensive cultivation
practices are adaptive to be produced in urban/sub-urban areas even though
the cost of land is much higher than in the rural areas, but these areas
have the advantages of being closed to the markets and other facilities
required for a better quality of life of the residents.
- High nutritional and/or aesthetic values: Used as food, as in
the case of vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, herbs and spices, these crops
generally have higher nutritional values than cereals or other field crops.
In particular, they are high in proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibre contents,
but less in fats and oils which are considered hazardous to life if consumed
Suitability of producing horticultural crops by disabled people
- Therapeutic benefit of gardening: Gardening is being used to calm and/or
interest people who were disturbed or lack of an interest through illness,
disability, or other problems. This is evident in the following cases:
- The (US) National Heart Foundation supports the view that gardening
has therapeutic benefit with a rose called "Young-at-Heart", which
is their reminder to all that gardening is good for the heart. Its "Life
Be In IT" Programme advocates gardening as a means of keeping healthy.
- Throughout Australia, horticultural therapy associations and schools
are being formed to cater for the specialized needs of the elderly, and
physically or mentally disabled people.
- High value : volume ratio: Most horticultural commodities are
not only high value, but their volumes as well as weights are small, a beneficial
attribute for the disabled people.
- Semi-automatic or fully automatic systems of production can be installed:
Thanks to modern tools and equipment now available, including automatic
sprinkler systems, equipment for composting, soil preparation and filling
into the pot, ready-made propagator, etc. These make gardening for disabled
people more enjoyable.
- Intensive cropping practices: At firsts glance, this seems to
be a hindrance but it really provides advantages to the disabled people
as most other people do not have enough patience to work intensively, especially
to sit or stand at the same site for a long time.
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.
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 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.
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
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
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.
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
Most popular in the Region are orchids, roses, anthurium, carnation, chrysanthemum,
calla lily, lilies, gerbera, heliconias, tuberoses, Curcuma, etc.
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.
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,
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
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
Special considerations for choosing horticultural crops by disabled
Produce crops which are on demand in time and place:
Produce crops which require special techniques/care
- Seasonal produces cannot fetch high price as the supply is higher than
the demand. Production of off-season flowers and fruits has several advantages
over normal production, e.g. in fetching higher price per unit of produce,
avoid the danger of seasonal pests, avoid the problem of labour shortage.
Off-season varieties of flowers and fruits (which are normally produce seasonally)
are available. Normal bearing varieties can also be treated (by chemicals
or other means) to produce flower or fruit off-season, or on particular
date, e.g. Christmas or New Year, Valentine Day, Mother Day, Easter, Graduate
- Produces sold at the place of production normally fetch low price. If
production can take place in other locations and the produces to be sold
there, the price obtained is higher. This can be seen in the case of grape,
Durban, magnets, rambutan, etc. produced in the north or northeast of Thailand.
Similarly, sub-tropical or temperate flowers or fruits which are produced
on the highland can fetch high price, if the quality is all right.
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
Disabled people cannot compete with other people if they grow low-value
Similarly, crops which are provided with high input or technology will fetch
higher price or income than those which do not have such treatment.
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.
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:
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
- Seeds: These apply to crops which can produce true-to-type seeds such
as some vegetables, flowers, and fruits; or seeds which are to be used as
- Seedlings: These apply to certain fruit crops which are truee-breeding
varieties, or those which produce nucellar seedlings, or those to be used
- Cuttings: These are branches of desirable varieties taken out from the
mother plants to produce roots in special medium
- Marcots: These are branches which have been induced to produce roots
by making a ring and remove the bark, then cover with moist medium (eg.
soaked coir dust wrapped in plastic cover
- Budded rootstocks: These are rootstocks (obtained from above) budded
with desirable varieties
- Grafted rootstocks: These are rootstocks grafted with desirable varieties
Compost and potting soil
- Composting is a simple process that disabled people can do and it is
ecologically sound. Any organic matter can be used for composting. Regulating
solution is also availbale in the market to speed up the process.
- Potting soil can be made by adding top soil collected from the nearby
forest (bamboo forest is the best) and mix with compost, farm manure and
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