April 1 2014

Kitchen Gardens to Fight Malnutrition in Bihar, India


Mahadev Sharma (left) loves gardening and growing fruits and vegetables for his family of seven. In his garden, you can find bitter gourds, ladies’ fingers, pumpkins, green chilies, tomatoes, coriander, garlic, and other vegetables. With the help of his wife, he also cultivates mangos, lemons, and guavas. “Fruits are obviously the children’s favorite,” explains Mahadev with a large smile.

His kitchen garden is one of 1,000 that have been planted with the support of Karuna-Shechen in eighteen impoverished Indian villages of Bihar. In this poor Indian state, 80% of children below the age of five and 68% of women under 50 are malnourished  Karuna-Shechen initiated its “Kitchen Gardening Program” in mid-2013 to address this high incidence of malnutrition and the extreme poverty of small farmers.

Previously, we survived on just rice and lentils,” remembers Mahadev.  “There were no vegetables at home because it was too expensive to purchase them at the market. Now because of the kitchen gardens we have fresh fruits and vegetables in our own backyard! We definitely feel healthier than before.”

Karuna-Shechen has provided selected households with plants and seeds, and educated the farmers on how to create healthier gardens. “The Karuna-Shechen staff taught us how, when, and where to plant specific plants and seeds, watering and composting techniques, and how to protect crops from animals.”

Building on the success of this program, Karuna-Shechen has extended it to four local primary schools that now grow their own fruits and vegetables to provide healthy meals to their young students.

The project also has an economic-empowerment component. Half of the produce grown in the families’ and schools’ gardens are kept for consumption. The rest are sold in the market as an additional source of income. In return, participating families donate 20% of the profit from the sales to community welfare projects, from which they will also benefit.

In 2014, Karuna-Shechen plans to take this project to another level by establishing  a model farm house, where traditional seeds will be used instead of hybrid seeds.  We will also promote the use of organic manures and natural pesticides.