, Volume 61-62, Issue 1-3, pp 135-152

The enigma of tropical homegardens

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Abstract

Tropical homegardens, one of the oldest forms of managed land-use systems, are considered to be an epitome of sustainability. Although these multispecies production systems have fascinated many and provided sustenance to millions, they have received relatively little scientific attention. The objective of this review is to summarize the current state of knowledge on homegardens with a view to using it as a basis for improving the homegardens as well as similar agroforestry systems. Description and inventory of local systems dominated the ‘research’ efforts on homegardens during the past 25 or more years. The main attributes that have been identified as contributing to the sustainability of these systems are biophysical advantages such as efficient nutrient cycling offered by multispecies composition, conservation of bio-cultural diversity, product diversification as well as nonmarket values of products and services, and social and cultural values including the opportunity for gender equality in managing the systems. With increasing emphasis on industrial models of agricultural development, fragmentation of land holdings due to demographic pressures, and, to some extent, the neglect – or, lack of appreciation – of traditional values, questions have been raised about the future of homegardens, but such concerns seem to be unfounded. Quite to the contrary, it is increasingly being recognized that understanding the scientific principles of these multispecies systems will have much to offer in the development of sustainable agroecosystems. Research on economic valuation of the tangible as well as intangible products and services, principles and mechanisms of resource sharing in mixed plant communities, and realistic valuation and appreciation of hitherto unrecognised benefits such as carbon sequestration will provide a sound basis for formulating appropriate policies for better realization and exploitation of the benefits of homegardens.

This revised version was published online in June 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.