Converting waste into valuable resources – Experiences from organic home gardens

Suresh Kanna K

There is a renewed attention to food production and livelihood enhancement through home gardens. The Learning Exchange on Agro Ecology has provided new ideas and practical learning on effective recycling and management of farm waste while designing home gardens.

There is nothing like waste. Waste is only a misplaced resource which can become a valuable material for another product. The first goal of any waste management system is to maximize the economic benefit from the waste resource and maintain acceptable environmental standards.  To be practical, the system must also be affordable and suitable for the operation.  If wastes are not properly handled they can pollute surface water, groundwater and contribute to air pollution. Looking at waste as a resource is one of the guiding principles of ecological agriculture.

Globally, there is an urgent need to find sustainable usage of the organic wastes produced in the agriculture field. Effective approaches for recycling of organic wastes within agriculture can reduce the need for mineral fertilizer and restore organic carbon deficiency in the soil.  Every waste material from crop and animal can be carefully collected, conserved and reused on the land. This eventually helps to maintain soil productivity in a system of intensive cultivation and acts as a ‘buffer’ against shortages of mineral fertilizer. Recycling of resources also contributes in promoting agro-ecology and enhancing agro-biodiversity.

Understanding the concepts and approaches, a learning exposure program for Youth in Agro-ecology was organized in Sri Lanka by PAN AP (Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific), based in Malaysia for its partners in South Asia.  Networking with PAN AP creates learning exchange and capacity building opportunity among its partners on Bio-diversity based Ecological Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Agro-Ecology.  During March 2018, PAN AP partners involved in the campaign on “Agro-ecology in action” in Jakarta, Indonesia.  There it was decided that conducting a learning exchange programme is one important strategy in advancing the advocacy in the region.  Kudumbam, one of the key partners of PAN AP for more than two decades, also participated in the learning exchange.

Learning exchange on agro-ecology

Based on the decision, a 4-day Learning Exchange program for youth in agro-ecology was organized in Sri Lanka during February 2019. The objective of the program was to facilitate exchanges on agro-ecological practices among partners from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka. It was also aimed at further sharpening analysis on trends and issues on agro-ecology and food sovereignty, through discussions. Vikalpani National Women’s Federation, a local NGO in Sri Lanka organized the learning exchange programme and facilitated the on field and institution-based learning activities.

Participants visited the field area of Vikalpani National Women’s Federation, at Monarawagala, about 350 Kms west of Colombo.  Vikalpani Foundation has been working with women farmers in Sri Lanka for more than 2 decades by organizing them as groups and promoting organic home gardens.  The participants visited several home gardens established by women farmers with the technical support from Vikalpani Foundation.  The production of all the home gardens is for home consumption using the labour sourced from family members.  Each and every garden is unique and special in its design and space utilization, both horizontal and vertical, fulfilling the family needs.

The home gardens are very impressive with great amount of species density and diversity of vegetables crops cultivated in the backyard of their homes by organic methods. In the home gardens, the women farmers cultivated with a combination of vegetables, herbs, greens and trees. These included tomatoes, brinjal, okra, chillies, onion, greens, cluster beans, pepper, bitter gourd, snake gourd, mint, radish, vallaarai, aloevera, coriander, turmeric, garlic, banana, and trees like teak, glyricidia, mango, guava etc.  The decisions related to crop selection, procurement of inputs, harvesting, management etc., are driven by the consumption and income generation needs of the household. The gardens were designed in such a way to fulfil almost 80 per cent of their home needs with enhanced nutritional security of farm family members.

Converting waste into manure

The success primarily is owed to the understanding and involvement of whole family in recycling resources – converting waste materials into useful resources. It was very good learning for the participants to know how the women farmers making compost use kitchen waste and crop residues. Also recycling of waste water from kitchen was being done by using it for the garden.  Their innovative techniques on waste recycling using local material are some of the important learnings for the participants. Glyricidia sticks were used for creepers, creating a congenial micro climate by preserving soil moisture. Bio charcoal was being made and used as valuable manure for the garden.

The participants also witnessed the government initiatives, especially department of agriculture in Sri Lanka.  The department of agriculture has established a centre of excellence for organic agriculture which is committed to expand organic agriculture in Sri Lanka.  In the centre, they do lot of research on different kinds of bio inputs before recommending to farmers. The participants also had a chance to visit an amazing home garden in the urban side developed by an agriculture extension officer herself


In the wake of a global food crisis and the soaring food prices, there has been increased emphasis on enhancing and building local food systems. In this context, there is renewed attention to food production and livelihood enhancement through home gardens. The Learning Exchange on Agro Ecology has provided new ideas and practical learning on effective recycling and management of farm waste while designing home gardens.

Suresh Kanna.K


No. 113/118, Sundaraj Nagar, Subramaniyapuram,

Trichy – 620 020,

Tamil Nadu, India


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