On Sunday, the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Jai Ram Thakur, inaugurated a nutrition garden at the Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar Himachal Pradesh Agriculture University at Palampur. The garden is spread over an area of 3,250 square meters and saplings of apple, peach, plum, apricot, pomegranate and persimmon will be planted this winter. It will also grow medicinal plants.
Nutrition gardens are kitchen or backyard gardens which grow food for small communities. They are believed to instil a sustainable approach to consumption, a hands-on understanding of how food is grown and a deeper knowledge about nutrition. Student participation in these gardens in schools and colleges means an early start to learning where our food comes from and how to eat it.
It is believed that the concept of nutrition gardens is more than 150 years old. The term "kindergarten," which translates from German as "children's garden”, was coined by Friedrich Fröbel, who is believed to be the father of modern elementary education. When he introduced this term in the mid-19th century, farming was taught in schools in parts of Europe such Austria, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France, Russia, and England.
In an agricultural college, such as the one in Himachal, it is imperative to have a nutrition garden. There are several schools across the country which have nutri-gardens due to the efforts of individuals or state governments. In south India, the horticulture department of states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have initiated developing nutri-gardens in government schools.
In the remote flood-prone district of Lawngtlai in Mizoram, deputy commissioner Shashanka Ala introduced the concept of ‘Kan Sikul, Kan Huan’ translated as ‘my school, my farm.’ She collaborated with the Centre’s Poshan Abhiyan scheme, which addresses malnutrition among children, to set up nutri-gardens in the schools of the district that is cut-off from the main markets in the state's capital. In a story titled ‘My School, My Farm’: Mizoram IAS Officer Tackles Malnutrition With a Brilliant Idea published in Better India, she says, “Every school and anganwadi will have a small kitchen and nutrition garden in their own premises. Since there is no plain land available, all the gardens are made on terraces. These schools and anganwadis source their fruit/vegetable seeds and compost from the district administration. They can now cook their mid-day meals using the food they have grown themselves instead of waiting for a truck from Silchar or Aizawl.”
Students are not the only beneficiaries of nutri-gardens. Engaging women in rural India is vital to growing better food and address the issue of malnutrition. "Despite being the second largest producer of food, India is home to the world’s second largest undernourished population (195.9 million)," reads a paper titled Health Initiative Nutrition Gardens: A Sustainable Model for Food Security and Diversity, published in the website orfonline.org by Observer Research Foundation, an organisation that aims to foster "policy thinking towards building a strong and prosperous India". The paper highlights the role women play in family meals. In states such as Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand, rural departments work closely with women to create kitchen gardens to secure their livelihood, tackle malnutrition and improve the intake of better food.
The government of India is not alone in its endeavour to set up nutrition gardens. Reliance introduced Reliance Nutrition Gardens (RNGs) and has more than 29,000 RNGs across states such as Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan, among others. Their basket of produce is similar to the one promised by the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. With the help of small and marginal farmers, RNGs grow vegetables, fruits and medicinal plants through the year for adequate food and nutrition.