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Working at half-potential: Constructive analysis of home garden programmes in the Lima slums with suggestions for an alternative approach

Vera Niñez, International Potato Centre, Lima, Peru


While "urban agriculture" is a relatively recent concept in development circles, city and town dwellers from ancient times until the present have produced at least some of their own food in and around urban settlements. As new projects are formulated to develop urban small-scale food production systems, an understanding of traditional approaches will help pave the way for successful implementation.

Based on this philosophy, this article deals with traditional gardening and garden development projects in Lima, Peru. First, I will briefly describe the socio-economic and nutritional background of low-income target populations served by small-scale food production development projects. Second, ongoing "native" food production at the urban household level, emphasizing household gardens, will be discussed. Third, a series of past and contemporary programmes will be analysed and, fourth, concrete suggestions will be offered to guide future programme design.


Once an agriculturally self sufficient nation, Peru today has reached a point where the need for annual imports of basic foodstuffs (mainly US white polished rice, wheat, and powdered milk) amount to over US$1 billion [16, p. 69] . These imports virtually cancel out Peruvian exports in minerals, one of the greatest riches of the nation. Even the persuasive argument that Peru should acquire imports through the sale of those export commodities in which it has a comparative international advantage cannot at present be sustained when food imports literally eat up such a gigantic share of the country's foreign exchange earnings.

Peruvian governments past and present have attempted to feed the nation's 19 million people by both increasing agricultural output and expanding the land area under cultivation. Neither land reform nor large-scale colonization, however, have produced the expected results. Despite a growing population, agricultural output has remained static over the past years, with a decline in some subsistence crops [2, B3]. Agricultural production is generally marked by an increasing coastal output in urban food items (chickens, eggs, milk, horticultural field produce} and agroindustrial crops and a decline in smallholder subsistence-oriented production [2, B10].

Since the 1950s, massive rural-urban migration resulting from the desire of the rural population to escape the yoke of agricultural stoop labour and find employment in the capital has brought millions of hinterlanders to Lima and the coast [14]. Newcomers settle in invasiones (literally "invasions") of straw huts erected practically overnight on rocky hillsides and sand dunes around the metropolitan core. These subsequently mature into pueblos jovenes (young towns) with the right to community status, infrastructural facilities, and community administration. Today, over six million people, or one-third of Peru's total population, are concentrated in and around Lima The 1981 census by the Ministry of Housing counted at least 1,171,840 persons living in blighted urban sectors with the 1984 estimate close to two million. Newcomers to Lima's pueblos jovenes are faced with high levels of unemployment and resulting low and often irregular incomes. Monthly income for the average family of seven among Lima's poor oscillates around US$80 [14] . Monthly allowable expenditure per capita is thus below US$12.

Although the coast supplies 43 per cent of agricultural output [ 1, B 1 ], costly commercial production puts prices out of reach of many urban poor households. The poorest families especially are forced to subsist mainly on government subsidized basic imported foods, to the wide spread exclusion of vegetables, fruit, and animal proteins. At the same time, production of nutritionally high-quality traditional crops has declined in favour of market production, lowering rural nutritional standards while increasing the dependence of the primary sector on government subsidized basic foods [16, pp. 36, 62]. Consequently, balanced nutrition, critical at the wider national level, becomes a factor affecting family well-being at the individual, family, and community levels. Signs of malnutrition and cases of severe clinical malnutrition are found particularly in the age-group under five [7].

Lower-income families spend over 60 per cent of their monthly incomes on basic food and drink [9], despite government expenditures on subsidies and basic food imports that averaged 26.8 per cent of the national deficit between 1973 and 1983 [3].

Comparing prices of individual food items to monthly income, the food selections of low-income housewives make sense economically (table 1). Food intake for the lower social strata consists of a diet heavy in vitamin-and-mineral-deficient yet low-cost carbohydrate sources.

Sugar is used in large quantities. Vegetables are consumed regularly but in small quantities in soups rather than as the main feature of meals. Consumption of plant protein, such as beans, is higher than that of animal protein, including eggs, but low in comparison to total calorie intake (cf. table 1) [6].

The major source of calories, white polished rice, also supplies a high percentage of protein to low-income diets. In a 1980 unpublished survey [6], rice supplied 16.38 per cent of the daily family protein intake at 9.25 per cent of the total daily consumption cost, followed by fish (17.11 per cent at 6.35 per cent of the total cost), chicken (8.07 at 16.24 per cent of the total cost), and eggs (1.22 at 1.54 per cent of the total cost). Wheat flour products, especially in the form of panes (rolls), are consumed with and in between meals, and add to the high carbohydrate intake.


National and international programmes working to improve the nutritional standing of Lima's poor households are as old as the slum settlements themselves. The Government has tried measures ranging from "free food" and "food-for-work" programmes to high-protein but culturally unacceptable "mixes" (such as ones based on fish and cotton seed meal) [4]. Recent intervention projects have stressed innovative, self-help strategies to provide more and better balanced food: among these have been the establishment and promotion of household-level food production in the form of family backyard or community gardens.

TABLE 1. Prices of Foods in the Lima Market

Commodity Price
Food Category
and Primary Nutrients
1 kg rice 1,500 Staples (carbohydrates)
1 kg noodles 2,200  
1 kg sweet potato 250  
1 kg beans 4,500 Legumes (plant protein)
1 kg peas 6,000  
1 kg broad beans 4,000  
1 kg chicken 5,000 Meat, fish, eggs, milk
1 kg beef, muscle 10,000 products (animal
1 kg fish, low-priced 4,000 protein)
1 kg offal 5,500  
1 kg eggs 3,700  
1 kg milk 1,200  
1 kg cheese, low-priced 12,000  
1 unit cabbage 800 Vegetables (vitamins,
1 unit lettuce 500 minerals)
1 unit cucumber 300  
1 unit eggplant 300  
1 kg tomato 1,400  
1 kg carrot 1,200  
1 kg squash 1,600  
1 kg onions (white) 2,200  
1 medium papaya 2,300 Fruit (vitamins A and C)
1 unit banana 140  
1 unit apple 200  
1 unit mango 800  
1 kg oranges 1,600  
1 kg passion fruit 1,200  

a. Prices date from early 1984 with an exchange rate of 2,700 soles to US$1.

Urban gardening is a food production strategy that has been employed since Roman times to secure close-at-hand basic and supplementary food supplies [12]. A traditional companion to rural subsistence economies, the food garden in an urban setting has many additional advantages over exclusive dependence on other means of food procurement, both at the family level and at wider societal and national levels, since it:

- utilizes marginal (urban) space;
- utilizes marginal labour (mainly female) not readily employable otherwise;
- draws on present knowledge and practices;
- produces considerable amounts of food where the highest concentration of consumers is found;
- reduces dependence on unstable and high-priced market goods;
- utilizes existing scarce infrastructural and natural resources;
- provides fresh vegetables, staples, and fruit as well as animal protein not available otherwise, thus improving nutritional standing and changing consumption habits;
- provides petty cash through neighbourhood sale of surplus produce;
- offers the possibility of self-help action, thus having positive economic, nutritional, and psychological benefits;
- reduces dependence on free food, thus helping governments reduce imports and save scarce foreign exchange for other national needs; and - benefits not only physical health but also psychological well-being by providing a measure of nutritional security and improving the urban environment aesthetically.

Lima is historically known as the "Garden City" [10]. Judging by the lack of greenery today (except in the more affluent suburbs), one cannot help but wonder how this appellation came about. Gardening on the Peruvian desert coast is not an easy task. Except in river deltas, such as the Rimac and Chillon in the case of Lima, the substratum is sand, often considerably saline, and all efforts at cultivation depend on the presence of (non-saline) irrigation water - something that poses a particular problem for the "young towns" or slums. For the slum inhabitants, whose huts are constructed on a substratum of pure sand, poor soil is an additional impediment to the "instant" establishment of productive gardens.

City Gardens: Native Technology and Management

Low-income families in the process of establishing themselves in a Lima pueblo joven have to pool all their resources in order to achieve a relatively sound economic and nutritional base. Among these resources are rural skills and the determination to put them to productive use. While male family members, including boys, seek employment outside, women with small children are usually unable to find work away from home. Using no more than a spade and a hoe or mason's trowel, many female heads of household have, therefore, opted to start a small garden adjacent to the family dwelling.

The data on indigenous food gardens presented here are based on a survey of Lima low-income gardens ranging in size from a few square metres to an entire lot of 900 square metros, destined for construction in the future. Following a general observational survey of 76 gardens, 46 of these were selected for detailed study, focusing on socio-economic characteristics, garden management, species choice and variety, seed procurement, complementary small animal production, and nutritional and economic benefits.

Lima gardens often do not appear as such to the Western observer. Garden nuclei, or first beginnings, often consist of nothing more than a few corn stalks, a young banana shoot, and some herbs and flowers. Plant species correspond to vegetables frequently consumed by the household. The family garbage pile often functions as a seedbed, where spontaneous propagation from kitchen waste takes place (e.g. tomato, papaya, and Cucurbitaceae). Also, rural relatives and neighbours may supply seed.

Gardens evolve from an often insignificant patch to an average size of 200 square metres. As planting continues and increases, soil is improved slowly through the incidental and planned incorporation of plant refuse. Examples of excellent suppliers of organic refuse are banana, papaya, and pigeon pea, locally called vainita de palo (Cajanus cajan). Vegetable remains that can be fed to household animals end up as garden manure. Commercial fertilizers and pesticides are used to a minor extent, generally speaking, once the garden has matured to 8 size and productivity that guarantees a return on input, a must for low-resource households. Often the establishment of a garden is incidental or secondary to the growing of fodder for a few small household animals, usually guinea pigs and/or rabbits and poultry, including ducks, turkeys, and chickens.

In mature gardens with water and space available, the cropping list can be quite diverse. The typical garden features tree crops (mainly banana and papaya, though avocado, mango, guava, guanabana, fig, and pacay (Tnga feuillei) can also be found), fruit-bearing climbers (e.g. passion fruit), vegetable staples (maize, roots, and tubers), and some leaf and fruit vegetables and beans. Herbs, medicinal plants, and flowers complete the cropping list. Vegetables not native to the region and poorly adapted to the harsh tropical desert environment are only found in the larger plots of experienced gardeners or of people with field horticultural backgrounds who are provided with good soil and water.

Water is the major factor limiting urban gardening. Frequently, kitchen waste water is used for producing small numbers of plants and rearing animals. On a limited scale, extra water is purchased for gardens where metered lines are not available. The cost of water for a household and an average-size garden (10 x 20 m) in late 1983 was around US$3.50 per month. During the warmer months, water is periodically unavailable in many lower-class Lima suburbs, and gardens suffer considerably.

The food gardeners studied all belong to the lower income strata of Lima society. Thirty-two of the forty were housewives with small children or grandchildren; few of the female gardeners are gainfully employed outside the home. Male heads of household work in a wide range of lower-class occupations (cobbler, mechanic, shop assistant, truck driver, chauffeur, guard, factory worker) or are retired. The average monthly net income was slightly over US$60. None of the gardeners had learned about gardening after coming to Lima, although they claim to have gained a lot of first-hand experience since planting their own gardens. Gardening skills were often acquired in family agricultural and field horticultural production before coming to the capital, usually as a child living with parents or relatives. One main difference between male and female gardeners in Lima is that men are usually interested in capitalizing on their backyard enterprises (e.g. establishing a nursery or planting mostly fruit trees with a good market value), while women are aiming to produce food for family consumption.

The preferred location for family gardens is close to the house. In many cases, the back yards are already occupied by household animals and children, or given over to purposes other than the cultivation of plant species, which requires a relatively large horizontal area, so growing space is sought elsewhere. Tropical gardens, of which Lima urban gardens are arid examples, also utilize vertical space for food production; for example, squash, Cyclanthera pedata, beans, and climbers grow onto roofs and fences, providing greenery and shade in addition to food. Pigeon peas and sugar cane form natural fences in a multi-purpose arrangement. These species are also able to withstand to a certain degree human and animal backyard activities.

The expansion of protected garden areas occurs close to the house, either onto the family lot or onto public land, such as roadside areas or land earmarked for parks. This expansion of vegetation, especially trees, is encouraged by pueblo joven municipalities, who regard such efforts as free beautification projects by citizens in the absence of municipal funds. However, families who expand their food production ventures onto public land have no tenancy rights, which is of great concern to gardeners and a definite constraint to increasing urban household food production.

Economic and Nutritional Benefits of Lima Gardens

The economic and nutritional benefits of sample gardens were assessed for two growing seasons. Seventy-six gardens were visited twice during a nine-month time-span, beginning in August 1983, in different low-income suburbs and neighbourhoods. Forty gardens were studied in detail employing the methodology described below:

- the garden area was measured and crops were observed with attention to the physiological condition of plants and production potential during the growing season;
- information by gardeners on labour requirements was recorded;
- gardener information on amounts harvested, participant observation, and weighing were used when feasible to establish yields;
- comparable purchased or otherwise obtained produce was used for checking weight;
- a control garden was established under similar conditions by the investigator.

Garden economic benefits were calculated by comparing market prices for garden produce, using weight, unit, or standard sales unit, such as &taco or bunch. Nutritional output was measured using weight estimates and the known weight of harvested produce, and calculating its nutritional value from the INCAP/ICNND (1961) food composition tables for Latin America (cf. table 1). The resulting quantitative information gives us an insight into an average Lima food garden:

- size: 200 m2
- daily labour requirements: 50 minutes
- capital inputs: US$2.80
- growing season: 5 months
- economic benefits: US$28.33

(Daily labour requirements include soil preparation, planting. cultivating, watering, and harvest activities.

Capital inputs were calculated for one growing season and include chemical fertilizers and pesticides, seed, fencing material, and water. Extensive soil improvers, if purchased, were not counted but considered a long-term investment.)

Removed from their socio-economic context, these figures do not strike the outside observer as spectacular enough to warrant major promotional involvement. However, when seen in relationship to the household economies these gardens serve, their real significance appears. Over five months, earnings for the average family amount to an average US$300. Garden produce adds an indirect income of almost 10 per cent, not counting the convenience of having a ready supply of basic foodstuffs and/or animal fodder.

This corresponds very favourably to information for developed-country garden return, where capital is more readily available for garden inputs and a better garden infrastructure [5; 18, p. 197]. A 10 per cent increase in earnings helps considerably in Peru's continuing struggle against increasing prices and monetary devaluation. At the macro-level, the cumulative benefits of seemingly insignificant household gardens are staggering. Calculated on the basis of this average garden, an annual US$56,660,000 of food could be produced by the larger metropolis if, out of the seven million inhabitants of Lima, one million families were to plant only a small food garden.

The nutritional benefits of Lima household gardens can be stated in terms of higher-quality carbohydrate sources, decreased loss of nutrients through freshness, and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables not otherwise available due to high prices, especially as regards tropical fruits from eastern Peru (table 1).

Contemporary Lima "native" food gardens are thus - in terms of capital, time, and technology - low-input production systems which, none the less, yield a considerable amount of plant and animal food in an environment where no other form of food production is possible and where nutritionally high-value food categories are high-priced and have fostered unsound consumption patterns. The value and extent of present urban food production in urban Lima should not be discounted by nutrition-oriented garden programmes because they do not conform to the textbook image of model gardens.


Functional household-garden technology that is ecologically and socio-economically adapted to the locality has not been a part of applied home garden projects in Latin America. Seemingly operating in a vacuum, programme design is based mainly on temperate-climate models and fads (such as the French intensive method and the raisedbed method), which are often maladapted or totally inapplicable to local ecology and target population socio-economics. National and international institutions attempting to promote urban family food production among Lima's poor display an extraordinary similarity in approach and methodology, and a lack of technology transfer.

Project Analysis: No Return on Investment

Several years ago a Catholic agency began a family food production project in a recently established Lima slum while inhabitants were in the process of replacing straw and lumber shacks with modest brick buildings. Infrastructural facilities (including water) were lacking. The project appropriately advocated water-conserving container production of leaf vegetables. For several reasons - the newness of the idea of producing vegetables in wooden boxes, a choice of species not essential to customary diet, the high price of lumber, the competition between containers and construction for lumber and water, and inopportune timing - the idea did not catch on, despite the fact that containers are generally used to raise seedlings. Disillusioned, the agency gave up and has not since attempted another project in the city slums.

A locally represented private international food and nutrition institute also worked with the "box-method." The institute's world-wide audience are middle-class organic hobby gardeners who wish to produce their own food for ideological and health reasons rather than seeking to supplement income or improve family diet by household-level food production. Followers of this philosophy are willing and able to invest in their gardening ventures in order to harvest small amounts of leafy vegetables and herbs usually associated with temperate gardens and most of which are care-intensive under local ecological conditions.

Despite its middle-class orientation, however, the institute has made a considerable contribution to low-income gardening programmes because of the availability of its textbook and slides, which have been used by two agencies, one foreign and one Peruvian, and presented to pueblo joven residents. In the process, school and community model gardens have been established.

The foreign agency contracted the institute to present its gardening course to schoolchildren in a low-income neighbourhood. A school garden was established, and the experience of the students with home gardens proved to be superior to the instructions they received in the course: some students built terraces on the sloping terrain chosen for the garden, others opted for "sunken beds" rather than the raised-bed method. Under conditions of irregular watering and poor soil, the crops of the students who followed traditional methods fared better than those of students who followed course instructions.

The community gardens were planted in conjunction with newly built day-care and women's instruction centres in pueblos jovenes. An estimated 70 per cent of instruction content was taken from the institute's course. Soil preparation, however, was insufficient for species ill-adapted to sandy, in some locations highly saline, growing conditions with little irrigation water available. Assistance was not continued beyond garden installation, although produce from the gardens was supposed to provide vegetables to supplement the "aid" food supplied to day-care centres and, eventually, to bring income to the community through sales.

Six months after installation, these community gardens had dried up. In the case of one community, the people themselves had no interest in maintaining the garden without assistance, as the day-care centre also served children from a neighbouring but disliked settlement. Also, the difficulty in obtaining seed for the species promoted, the poor quality of small packaged amounts, and the cost discouraged the community from continuing with the garden.

The reason for the failure of communal programmes least considered by promoters is the artificial nature of the main vehicle used to put garden programmes into operation: the club de madres or mothers' club. A remnant of Peace Corps work in Peru, mothers' clubs function, with much internal conflict, for the duration of "aid" programmes, and have no roots in the community structure.

Garden Acculturation: The Evolution of a Project Garden

The community of Llanavilla, a Lima suburban low-income housing development, hosted two home garden development projects in a twelve-month period from 1983 to 1984 The first project was not rewarded either by transfer of the technology from the model garden site to individual homes or by continuation of the model garden The second has met with more success owing to more thorough preparation and some follow-up by technical personnel.

The programme was initiated with an experiment in innovative energy production that could possibly be adapted to the low-income situation. A biogas plant was established on government grounds adjacent to Llanavilla. On a selected garden spot within the compound, a gas by product was mixed in a 50:50 ratio with the sand substratum, and a model garden was planted by collaborating technicians from the Agrarian University. Species represented were urban, field-horticultural crops in straight-row, raised-bed arrangements, mono-cropped or with two species to a bed, with no regard for plant-symbiotic relationships.

An identical garden was planted on community land at the same time and with the same layout and cultivars. Labour, expenses, and technical assistance were provided. Active community participation in any production-related activity was minimal to non-existent.

After two short seasons of fast-maturing vegetables (radishes, chard, lettuce, zucchini squash, beets, green onions and tomatoes), programme supervision ceased. The programme-paid worker who regularly watered and cultivated the garden left, and the community was in control of its huerta (garden}. Although no new planting of commercial species was undertaken, what happened provides valuable insights for the improvement of home garden programmes.

Following the second planting of short-term crops by programme technicians, community enthusiasm had risen. Members decided to extend the garden, as plenty of community land was available and the water situation had improved. This enthusiasm was in part due to a dynamic community president who was able to coerce about 20 residents into participation.

The community-initiated garden addition was double the size of the model garden, and offered a distinct picture: instead of long, 80 cm raised beds, sunken, 1 m2 beds had been installed. By that time, the biogas plant no longer functioned and manure was hauled in. These square beds were planted with giant squash, a better adapted variety, and more widely consumed by this social stratum than zucchini. The other part of the garden addition was planted in maize inter-cropped with sweet potato and triple-cropped along the borders with peas.

The model garden plot, with programme species now fading, was also newly planted with maize, sweet potato, cassava, and rustic beans, as well as climbers (Passiflora, Cyclanthera pedants) and trees (banana, papaya). The caretaker of the garden by now was the custodian of the day-care and community centre, with the president and his wife showing the most individual interest in maintaining the garden and adding a guinea pig and poultry project. However, during the water-scarce months of early 1985, the garden ceased to function altogether. The lack of community co-operation coupled with scarce water resources made the project unfeasible in the long-term.

The process of garden acculturation that has occurred in Llanavilla is none the less indicative of several factors important to the success of such projects:

1. Availability of seed: Seed planted by the community was highland-derived (maize) or came from vegetables purchased for daily meals (Cyclanthera spp., giant squash, beans, tomatoes). Individuals with their own gardens furnished seed, young plants, and saplings (Passiflora, banana, cassava, sweet potato).

2. Species adaptability: Low-income gardens, whether at community or family level, must be low-input, high-output undertakings with species adapted to arid conditions, sandy and/or saline soil, and little care.

3. Socio-economic expectations: Gardens at this social level are not an object of leisure activity but one way in which women can add indirectly to family income while caring for house and children. Women expect to plant those foods in the garden that are required in the daily diet and not easily obtained otherwise. They will plant those fruits and vegetables or staple crops which they know will yield under their particular ecological and economic circumstances.

4. Cultural food preferences: Although perhaps not so important in the urban as in the rural environment, food preferences that are ingrained in traditional food preparation and consumption habits play an important role in indigenous gardens.

5. Prevalence of staple crops: The predominantly rural background and agricultural experience of many urban gardeners, as well as the adaptability of some important root and tuber crops (e.g. sweet potato, cassava), tree crops (banana), and maize, determines their presence in urban, low-income gardens. Their "filling" quality, i.e. their high energy value, is of major interest to housewives trying to feed a sizeable family.

6. Cropping patterns and spatial arrangement: Native gardens are not row-cropped vegetable gardens but mixed associations of a multitude of species producing at horizontal and vertical levels.

7. Community orientation: Garden projects, for strategic reasons, prefer to work via communal organizations {schools, clubs, or communities). Household-level food production, however, is a family undertaking. At the low-income economic and social level, labour, space, and time are valuable resources. If invested in basic food production, even on a small scale, they cannot be risked on the uncertain participation of a number of other individuals.

One unfortunate aspect of this programme was that families who had small traditional gardens around their homes were not considered for technical assistance or consultation during the project. Thus, while no transfer of technology has taken place from programme implementers to programme recipients, the success of the undertaking and the return on the funds invested must be sought in a reversal of the transfer process: programme designers and implementers need to accept this lesson and learn from target populations to assist and develop on-going indigenous gardening.

Home Garden Centre: Suggestions for an Extension Outreach Project

As an alternative to past and present programmer which work in isolation from target populations, each other, and the wider social infrastructure, the approach suggested here takes advantage of existing agricultural extension services by adding a home garden component and adapting the expertise of national extension officers to traditional and innovative home garden production [13] It is also suggested that the Ministry of Agriculture establish model garden centres which combine traditional technology with functional innovations, and where home gardeners can obtain production-related inputs (including quality seed, seedlings, and soil amendments) while being served by a team of extension and garden horticultural experts. The establishment of a model garden combining old and new gardening materials and methods in a meaningful way will help prospective gardeners most effectively.

Except for "introductory gifts" aimed at creating interest and stimulating gardeners to use the centre, inputs should be offered at cost High-cost inputs (like compost, peat, synthetic soil amendments, and fencing material) may require government subsidies to enable low-income gardeners to buy them. Subsidies should be kept to a minimum, however, to reduce costs and avoid misuse of the programme. A number of inputs - compost, seed, seedlings, saplings, seed-boxes, and containers for growing seedlings can be produced on the model garden grounds. Clients can either purchase these inputs or receive instructions on how to produce them.

Special "introductory offers" are preferable to "gifts," since experience shows that people tend to value things more which require investment on their part. This approach also legitimizes the centre as more than another attempt to "help the poor," a philosophy rejected mainly by the poor themselves.

To translate a theoretical home garden centre (centro de servicio: huerta casera) into reality in the wider Lima area, one needs to identify suitable suburbs containing already functioning gardens, however small. The underlying philosophy is that where self-help efforts already exist, a programme of this kind will be successful. Areas in which there have been few or no attempts at planting gardens should be incorporated slowly, using an "evolutionary" approach rather than the overnight "revolutionary" one so typical of past home garden campaigns.

From the centre, gardeners receive crucial information and inputs at appropriate times. Extension personnel should make periodic visits to establish a bond and an exchange of information between clients and the centre. Also, printed information and classes should be available on traditional and less-adapted or less well-known crops or technology, as should more marginal but none the less vital information on the relationship between nutrition, sanitation, and health. Depending on the success of the selected pilot projects, more centres can be established to cover the entire metropolitan area. Hand-in-hand with the formation of a garden-service network, the improvement of infrastructural facilities, especially the water supply, has to be tackled by responsible national and municipal bureaucracies in order to help create a more sanitary environment, and garden production must be stimulated through regulated allotments accessible to everyone at a set basic fee. Also, a serious, well-informed public media campaign to foster pride in family food production at many socio-economic levels will help raise national awareness and stimulate people to action.

In contrast to previous efforts at garden development, this approach is viewed as "development from below" rather than as the imposition of preconceived but not necessarily effective methods. Both programme designers/implementers and target populations need to make a serious learning effort if they are to achieve the common goal of increasing household food production and raising the nutritional standard of low-income urban families at the grass-roots level.


Household purchasing power has been suggested as the most meaningful indicator of malnutrition, on the assumption that the poor do know what traditional foods and food combinations provide a satisfactory nutritional base. In this regard, applied nutrition programmes advocating mainly food supplements and subsidies have been criticized for treating the effects of malnutrition rather than attacking its underlying causes and for helping, often, the budgets of the better-off social strata more than those of the poor [11, 17] .

The species on the model cropping lists provided by applied nutrition programmes tend to be relatively uniform the world over, owing to the similarity in the formal training of specialists designing programmes and the transfer of programmes from one world region to another. In many world regions, however, and especially in the tropics, cultivation in home gardens of species generally associated with temperate climates is often not feasible because of the intensive care such species require under local conditions, including good quality land, costly soil amendments, and the use of chemical pest control methods. A self-help strategy potentially invaluable for improving family nutrition thus loses its raison d'être, which is to produce at low cost locally adapted food species for immediate family consumption.


1. R. Adler, "An Economic Overview, 1968-1982," The Impact of PL 480 Title I in Peru: Food Aid as an Effective Development Resource, USAID Project Impact Evaluation Report No, 47 (1983), A 1-11.

2. R. Adler, "Agriculture and Food," The Impact of PL 480 Title I in Peru: Food Aid as an Effective Development Resource, USAID Project Impact Evaluation Report No. 47 (1983), B 1-23.

3. Banco Central de Reserva, Banco Central de Reserva 1969-80. Plan de Abastecimiento Alimentario Nacional 1980-1983 (Lima).

4. M. Benavides and R. E. Rhoades, "Socio-Economic Conditions, Food Habits, and Formulated Food Programs in the Pueblos Jovenes of Lima, Peru," MS. (International Potato Centre, 1983).

5. D. A. Cleveland, T. V. Orum, and N. Ferguson, "Economic Value of Home Vegetable Gardens in an Urban Desert Environment," Hart. Sci. (in press).

6. Encuesta Nacional de Hogares Individuales (ENHI) (Lima, 1980).

7. G. G. Graham et al., "Programs for Combatting Malnutrition in the Pre-School Children in Peru," Pre-School Malnutrition, Primary Deterrent to Human Progress, Publication 1282 (NAS-NRC, Washington, D.C., 1966).

8. P. Hendry, "New Perspectives on Food Security," Ceres, 92 (16, 2): 13-15 (1983).

9. La Republica, "Basic Monthly Budget for Families of Extremely Low Income" (Lima, 19 March 1983).

10. L. Martin, The Kingdom of the Sun. A Short History of Peru (Charles Scribner & Sons, New York, 1974).

11. J. McNaughton, "Nutrition Intervention Programs: Pitfalls and Potential," Ceres, 92 (16, 2): 28-33 (1983).

12. V. Niñez, Household Gardens: Theoretical Considerations on an Old Survival Strategy, Food Systems Research Series, No. 1 (International Potato Centre, Lima, 1984).

13. V. Niñez, "Centro Huertas Caseras: A Grassroots Approach to Stimulate Family Food Production," MS. (step-by-step suggestions for programmes) ( 1984).

14. Oficina Nacional de Apoyo Alimentario (ONAA), Dirección de seguridad alimentaria. La asistencia alimentaria en el Peru (ONAA, 1978).

15. J. R. Parsons and N. P. Psuty, "Sunken Fields and Prehispanic Subsistence on the Peruvian Coast," Am. Antic. 40 (3): 259-282 (1975).

16. Sigma One Corporation, An Assistance Strategy toward the Improvement of Nutrition in Peru, prepared for USAID Peru Mission (1983).

17. C. Shuftan, "Household Purchasing Power Deficit: A More Operation Indicator to Express Malnutrition," Ecol. Food Nutr., 8: 29-35 (1979).

18. J. Utzinger and H. E, Connolly, "Economic Value of Home Vegetable Gardens," Hort Sci. Notes and Reports, 3 (2): 148-149 (1978).


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