Homestead agroforestry system

Agroforestry by virtue of its merits has now earned a distinct identity of its own and hardly needs any elucidation. Agro-forestry land use has two principal objectives, viz., sustainability and productivity.  Among the generation of agroforestry system in the world, home garden agro-forestry system claims an outstanding recognition. These highly intensified and well developed indigenous systems are characterized by interaction between abiotic and biotic constituents including the inhabitants among the households. The crops, trees, animal and the human inhabitants are so complex and diverse not only across regions but even within a system or broad agro-ecological setting. The productive and protective function in homesteads are maintained through natural process, which are not monitored or recorded. The environment of most of the indigenous home garden systems is quite similar to that of a forest. Thus, it has the ability to attract numerous seed carriers. In fact, while intentional planting brings about 25 to 30 percent vegetable cover to the system, the natural processes and the kitchen garbage turns them into a system of dense vegetative cover, rich in bio-diversity, microbial activities and in composition. The effect of all these multiple processes on sustainability of indigenous agroforestry signifies how random processes stabilize the production system.

A number of comparative studies conducted on land use system show that the home garden agro-forestry is most desirable for conserving the land resource base (Wickramashinge, 1994). Based on the ability of these systems to increase infiltration, control surface runoff, hold moisture, increase soil organic matter, the indigenous home garden agroforestry system is recognized as most appropriate to manage the lands, which are susceptible to external destruction.

Traditional homestead agro-forestry is prevalent in Kerala, India . Years of experience suggest that the Kerala home gardens are economically viable, ecologically sound and biologically sustainable. Homesteads consists of multitude of crops presenting a multi-tier canopy configuration along with livestock which ensures high level of utilisation of environmental resources, and thus increases the income on one hand and reduces the risk of crop failure on the other hand.

Home gardens fulfill various functions of the farm family and the communities. Even with small per capita holding, farmers are able to make optimum utilization of available land and also promoting subsidiary income to the household.

 Crop diversity in the homesteads

Cocos  nucifera eulogized as ‘Kalpavriksha’, the tree of heaven, is the most dominant plantation crop prevalent in the homesteads of Kerala. It is popularly known as benevolent provider of all basic necessities. In addition to coconut, many annual and perennial crops are grown mixed in coconut garden without any specific row arrangements.

The top  most canopy is occupied by coconut, the second layer by areca nut (Areca catechu), pepper (Piper nigrum), jack (Artocarpus heterophyllus), tamarind (Tamarindus indica) and mango (Mangifera indica). The third layer is occupied by banana, tapioca and fruit plants and lower most layer consists of tuber crops, vegetables and guinea grass. Boundaries are fenced usually with Gliricidia.

Thus, the homesteads with a multi-tier canopy configuration,  ensure a balanced utilisation of environmental resources. The crop components are grown in polyculture that consists of distinct canopy stratification. This helps in reducing soil temperature inside the micro-climate which in turn helps to reduce soil evaporation rate. The litter and crop residues are often left to get accumulated in soil and this helps in building up the organic matter content of the soil. The large plant biomass directly and indirectly protects the soil against erosion and a high species diversity provide a large variation in crop phenology and stability in nutritional supply.

 Sacred groves

In many homesteads of Kerala, Kavus or ‘Sacred grooves’ are found. ‘Sacred groves’ or Kavus are tracts of virgin forests. These constitute an integral part of life, culture and folklore tradition of Kerala. These age-old culture and religious practice supported by religious beliefs directly or indirectly promoted conservation and sustainable utilization of these natural ecosystems. These Kavus although limited in area are found to be distinct and unique in their biological diversity and ecosystem functioning.


On a close examination of homestead garden one could see that the homestead farmer has taken every effort to utilize the space both in the horizontal and vertical dimensions. Farmers have better perception and favourable attitude towards homestead farming. Profit motive of farmers is reflected by the inclusion of various profit yield crops in homesteads like Arecanut (Areca catechu), cashew (Anacardium occidentale), Pepper (Piper nigrum), Clove, Teak (Tectona grandis), etc.

Hence, it can be concluded that the home gardens which are mimics of mini forests are the forests created by the farmers of Kerala by incorporating various perennial and annual crops which renders the system  a  dense scenario of vegetation. Moreover, the farmers being highly literate are aware of the present environmental hazards, hence are actively engaged in the sustainability of the system. Thus, the homestead gardens can be considered as forests of the people, by the people and for the people.


Wickramasinghe, A., 1994, Indigenous Agroforestry Systems: An adoptable strategy for rehabilitation and sustainable management on degraded lands. Agro-Forestry systems of Sustainable Land Use. 59-69.0 

Nisha Aravinid, Ganesamoorthi, S and Simi Ibrahim, PG Students, Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore,

Dr. N.R. Gangadharappa,, Associate Professor of Agricultural Extension, Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK, Bangalore 560065, Email:

Nisha Aravind, N.R. Gangadharappa, Ganesamoorthi, S and Simi Ibrahim

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