Edible home gardens

Jim Kelly in his mother’s diverse food garden (Papua New Guinea). Image by Camilo Mejia Giraldo for Mongabay.

The term home garden does not have a strictly defined meaning, but the review of research might provide the definition of a small area of land (either customary or legal) surrounding or close to a residence, that is cultivated by a family or household on a relatively small scale, for the main purpose of self-provisioning of food, supplementing income and for wellbeing and recreation purposes (Drescher et al., 2006; Galhena et al., 2013; Idohou et al., 2014; Ortíz-Sánchez et al., 2015; Raymond et al., 2019).

 In Te Moananui Oceania edible home gardens are widespread (Thaman, 1995) and include cultivated plantings of annual and perennial plants with food, medicine, material, or cultural uses, as well as recreation amenity. Home gardens can employ numerous defined gardening techniques, with Te Moananui Oceanic home gardens often incorporating layered agroforestry.

Name of NbS

Edible home gardens

Type of NbS

Created or constructed living ecosystems


Created other


Case Study

SWoCK Project Backyard Organic farming in the Langalanga Lagoon

A woman weeds her small agricultural plot in Solomon Islands. Image by Jan Van Der Ploeg via Flickr

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Food production on small scales adjacent to human settlement is the oldest form of civilisation in many parts of the world (Korpelainen, 2023). In Te Moananui Oceania, Indigenous people have historically had to be self-reliant because of geographic isolation, developing sophisticated sustainable food provisioning systems that included home gardens in and around homesteads and villages (Sherzad, 2018; Thaman, 1995). In increasingly globally connected and urbanising Te Moananui Oceania, populations no longer have access to traditional food provided by gardens, wild areas, and fisheries – changing land practices represent a shift away from traditional mixed agroforestry systems used in home gardens that provided food to families with excesses traded or reciprocally exchanged (Thaman, 1995). These ways of growing are being replaced by monoculture agriculture for the production of commodities. Reduction of traditional gardening methods means a loss of biodiversity, indigenous knowledge-based food, medicine and material provisioning and a diminishing of sovereignty over sources of sustenance, including the land, as well as traditional systems of trade and reciprocal exchange associated with gardens.

Climate change benefits
  • Indirect health, social, cultural climate change impacts
  • Loss of food production
  • Loss of other ecosystem services

Local, fresh food production in edible home gardens benefits climate change by reducing reliance on imported foods, that have transport related carbon costs, and are usually of lower nutritional value (Watt et al., 2022). Health and social impacts are repeatedly cited in research, correlating the practice of home gardening and better dietary and physical health outcomes, especially relating to reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases (disease caused by behaviour rather than infection) (Ortíz-Sánchez et al., 2015; Savage et al., 2020; Thaman et al., 2006). Home gardens increase biodiversity, especially when traditional, locally adapted techniques are used such as agroforestry (Idohou et al., 2014; Korpelainen, 2023; Thaman et al., 2006; Webb & Kabir, 2009). The variety of plants contained in home gardens provides essential habitat for animals, including insects, reptiles, and birds. Other ecosystem services provided by home gardens can include soil building through practices such as composting, improved water infiltration reducing overland flow flooding and improving groundwater levels, provision of urban greening, shade and airborne pollution mitigation.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Food security and quality
  • Human physical health and wellbeing
  • Economic and social development

Edible home gardens improve food security and quality by providing desirable, diverse, fresh produce that supplements other food sources. In times of need there is greater ability for people in both urban and rural contexts to self-provision. Human health and wellbeing outcomes are multiplied, both dietary improvements and daily exercise are benefits of home gardening. Social cohesion is improved through trade and reciprocal exchange, as well as through collaboration.
Some larger home gardens or “family farms” (Sherzad, 2018) require additional labour, having economic implications, and improving employment outcomes alongside productivity. Home gardens also improve education outcomes when young people are exposed to growing from an early age, and when traditional knowledge can be practiced, preserved, and communicated between generations.

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Food production (for humans)
  • Habitat provision
  • Medicinal resources
  • Pollination
  • Relaxation and psychological wellbeing
  • Social justice and equity

Edible home gardens provide food for households and their immediate community. Often supplementary, and rarely able to fully provision food for a household, the role of home gardens is rather a way to supplement (reduce) costs, and to provide food, material, and medicinal resources alongside other sources. Habitat provision is provided by the diversity of plants utilised in many home gardens, often which are locally adapted or suited. Pollination is increased by plants in home gardens occupying marginal space, especially in urban areas, but there is a need for more research relating to biodiversity, pollination and habitat provision globally and within Te Moananui Oceania (Cameron et al., 2012; Webb & Kabir, 2009).

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Mika explaining the secret of his success in growing herbs in bags under shadecloth. On the left, his mentor Malcolm Hazelman. Image from Government of Tokelau
Sup sup garden house, Solomon Islands. Image by Wade Fairley via Flickr

Technical requirements

Home gardens rely on fertile soil. Regions of Te Moananui Oceania are known for having infertile soils (Thaman et al., 2006), so techniques like deep mulching or planting into pits are utilised for the purpose of water conservation. Access to land immediately around house especially limited in urban areas, and as urban development becomes more formalised people might be displaced from land that they do not ‘legally own’ but which they are occupying and utilising in a customary manner. Uncertainty about ongoing ability to garden in urban areas affects the type of gardening activities that occur there, with some gardeners growing annual produce or cash crops on temporarily cultivated plots (Drescher et al., 2006).

Issues and Barriers

Increasing urbanisation is leading to significant reductions of tree cover in Te Moananui Oceanic urban centres, many of these trees being food producing trees in home gardens (Komugabe-Dixson et al., 2019). Thaman et al., (2006) describe this process as “agrodeforestation”. Loss of knowledge occurs as intergenerational knowledge flows and ‘traditional foodways’ are disrupted by urbanisation excluding gardening practices in cities, coupled with rural-urban migration, and diminished interest in traditional knowledge among young people (Guell et al., 2021). Restrictive policies around land use and occupation make some gardening activities illegal, and although rarely enforced typify an institutional attitude to customary practices like home gardening that create barriers (Thaman, 1995; Watt et al., 2022). Conflicts around land occupation are an ongoing issue and even in advantageous circumstances, some may not have the monetary and material (e.g. seeds) resources available to establish home gardens. Alongside these issues, environmental damage is a growing concern in many parts of Te Moananui Oceania, such as salinisation (Guell et al., 2021).


Opportunities exist for wider programmes promoting edible home gardens, especially in urban areas where they can provide multiple climate change, social/cultural and ecology benefits. Skills should be developed and shared, and more diverse approaches to knowledge transfer developed to make the practice of home gardening that is culturally appropriate to a particular place more available. Home gardens can serve as “moorings” (Guell et al., 2021), anchoring traditional knowledge practices, health, wellbeing  livelihood and food security outcomes within local communities. There is need and opportunity to promote locally produced foods to build a secure local food system that both promotes health and provides culturally appropriate food, medicine, and material resources.

Financial case

A study conducted in Vanuatu in both urban and rural areas estimates 56% of local income is spent on food (Savage et al., 2020). Considering this the financial case for self-provisioning a significant proportion of food is high. Home gardens usually supplement food costs and provide limited employment opportunities (Galhena et al., 2013; Sherzad, 2018). In many cases, Te Moananui Oceania communities place high value on local food, perhaps due to years of institutional messaging around healthy eating, but also due to its basis in traditional knowledge, land-tenure based subsistence practices that span generations (Guell et al., 2021). Positive health outcomes relating to home grown food also have economic implications. Galhena et al., (2013) cite the financial potential of home gardening “is less cost intensive and requires fewer inputs” and suggest the sale of produce from home gardens does improve the financial status of the household in some cases worldwide.

 Galhena et al., (2013) also suggest that “moderately vigorous” production in home gardens can generate similar revenue in terms of area as more intensive field production methods. As markets inTe  Moananui Oceanic countries become increasingly production focused, customary self-provisioning gardening practices are diminishing in favour of sale of products and labour for cash, with this itself having implications for food security (Barnett, 2020).

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  • Barnett, J. (2020). Climate Change and Food Security in the Pacific Islands. In J. Connell & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Food Security in Small Island States (pp. 25–38). Springer Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8256-7_2
  • Cameron, R. W. F., Blanuša, T., Taylor, J. E., Salisbury, A., Halstead, A. J., Henricot, B., & Thompson, K. (2012). The domestic garden – Its contribution to urban green infrastructure. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 11(2), 129–137. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2012.01.002
  • Drescher, A. W., Holmer, R. J., & Iaquinta, D. L. (2006). Urban homegardens and allotment gardens for sustainable livelihoods: Management strategies and institutional environments. In B. M. Kumar & P. K. R. Nair (Eds.), Tropical Homegardens (Vol. 3, pp. 317–338). Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4948-4_18
  • Galhena, D. H., Freed, R., & Maredia, K. M. (2013). Home gardens: A promising approach to enhance household food security and wellbeing. Agriculture & Food Security, 2(1), 8. https://doi.org/10.1186/2048-7010-2-8
  • Guell, C., Brown, C. R., Iese, V., Navunicagi, O., Wairiu, M., & Unwin, N. (2021). “We used to get food from the garden.” Understanding changing practices of local food production and consumption in small island states. Social Science & Medicine, 284, 114214. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114214
  • Idohou, R., Fandohan, B., Salako, V. K., Kassa, B., Gbèdomon, R. C., Yédomonhan, H., Glèlè Kakaï, R. L., & Assogbadjo, A. E. (2014). Biodiversity conservation in home gardens: Traditional knowledge, use patterns and implications for management. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management, 10(2), 89–100. https://doi.org/10.1080/21513732.2014.910554
  • Komugabe-Dixson, A. F., De Ville, N. S. E., Trundle, A., & McEvoy, D. (2019). Environmental change, urbanisation, and socio-ecological resilience in the Pacific: Community narratives from Port Vila, Vanuatu. Ecosystem Services, 39, 100973. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2019.100973
  • Korpelainen, H. (2023). The role of home gardens in promoting biodiversity and food security. Plants, 12(13), 2473. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants12132473
  • Ortíz-Sánchez, A., Monroy-Ortiz, C., Romero-Manzanarez, A., Luna-Cavazos, M., & Castillo-España, P. (2015). Multipurpose function of home gardens in the family subsistence. Botanical Sciences, 93(4), 791–806. https://doi.org/10.17129/botsci.224
  • Raymond, C. M., Diduck, A. P., Buijs, A., Boerchers, M., & Moquin, R. (2019). Exploring the co-benefits (and costs) of home gardening for biodiversity conservation. Local Environment, 24(3), 258–273. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2018.1561657
  • Savage, A., Bambrick, H., & Gallegos, D. (2020). From garden to store: Local perspectives of changing food and nutrition security in a Pacific Island country. Food Security, 12(6), 1331–1348. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-020-01053-8
  • Sherzad, S. (2018). Family farming in the Pacific Islands countries. FAO. https://www.fao.org/3/ca0305en/CA0305EN.pdf
  • Thaman, R. R. (1995). Urban food gardening in the Pacific Islands: A basis for food security in rapidly urbanising small-island states. Habitat International, 19(2), 209–224. https://doi.org/10.1016/0197-3975(94)00067-C
  • Thaman, R. R., Elevitch, C. R., & Kennedy, J. (2006). Urban and homegarden agroforestry in the Pacific islands: Current status and future prospects. In Tropical Homegardens (Vol. 3, pp. 25–41). Springer Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4948-4_3
  • Watt, L., De Waegh, R., & Watt, G. (2022). Pathways for urban food security in the Pacific: Situating the urban informal food sector in the context of urbanisation and globalisation. Journal of Resilient Economies (ISSN: 2653-1917), 2(1). https://doi.org/10.25120/jre.2.1.2022.3918Webb, E. L., & Kabir, Md. E. (2009). Home gardening for tropical biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology, 23(6), 1641–1644. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01267.x

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