Eye Care

Vision Gardens

Vision Gardens: Ensuring Food and Nutritional Security for Rural India

Suneetha Sapur, Nutrition Consultant, L V Prasad Eye Institute

Providing nutritional security and food security at a cost that is affordable to the rural masses in India has always seemed to be an insurmountable challenge. Not anymore. L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), has come up with an incredibly simple and innovative concept called Vision Gardens that aims to provide nutritional security along with food security to the local population, especially for the underprivileged population in medically underserved rural villages. Local communities are provided with sustainable resources to address the nutritional needs of the local population, which is achieved by encouraging them to grow their own kitchen gardens in their own backyards, using plants that survive in the locality, require minimum maintenance, are acceptable to the community, and provide the much needed nutritional edge.

According to the WHO, clinical and subclinical deficiency of Vitamin A in India is the highest in the world. Although the universal Vitamin A prophylaxis program has been in place for the last three decades, vitamin A deficiency continues to be a public health concern in India. The strategies at the national level to combat vitamin A deficiency mainly involve periodic distribution of high-dose vitamin A capsules twice a year to children six months to five years old, but this is not enough. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the number of children of age group 12-35 months who had received a vitamin A dose in the previous 6 months was only 28.7(%).

Surprisingly, less emphasis has been placed on dietary approaches to preventing and controlling vitamin A deficiency even though this is more practicable. In order to address nutritional deficiencies, linkage of food security with nutrition security is very important. As the food we eat is a source of many nutrients, deficiency of one nutrient indicates the deficiency of many. Focusing on correcting one nutrient deficiency also address the correction of other nutrient deficiencies, and ensures nutrition security in the community. So LVPEI has taken up the initiative of establishing Vision Gardens in the villages with a goal to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies in rural communities and eradicate nutritional blindness.

Vision Gardens help address vitamin A deficiency as well as other micronutrient deficiencies by growing Vision Gardens in villages, and developing value added nutrient supplements from the garden’s produce. The produce from Vision Gardens is dehydrated, crushed into ‘sprinkles’, which are natural nutrient supplements. These ‘sprinkles’ are a rich source of beta carotene, calcium, iron, and proteins, thus armed with adequate potency to address micronutrient deficiencies, including VAD and iron deficiency. Four locally available and well accepted plants are selected for cultivation in the Village Garden: drumstick leaf, curry leaf, papaya, and sweet potato. All these plants are hardy, need little space and water to grow, and are easy to cultivate. Drumstick leaves and curry leaves, for instance, can contribute to daily dietary requirement of iron, calcium, folic acid, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. Thus, only two varieties of plants provide many nutrients. Similarly, papaya and sweet potato, which can be either consumed fresh or dehydrated for future use, can be promoted as weaning foods.

Nodal points for Vision Gardens include LVPEI’s International Centre for Advancement of Rural Eyecare (ICARE) center, secondary centers, homes of health educators in the village (Vision Guardians, Aganwadi workers, ASHA workers, ANMs), schools, panchayat offices, and nutrition centers. In addition, farmers are encouraged to grow these plants through krishi vignana kendra to ensure the abundance of produce from Vision Gardens.

Beta carotene rich food items Nutritional value per 100 gm (Fresh) How to use the produce of vision gardens Daily requirements
Moringa oleifera
(Drumstick leaves)
Beta carotene 19,690 micrograms
Calcium:440 mg
Iron:0.85 mg
Sprinklers used in rice, soups, curries. Adult:
Beta carotene 4,800 micrograms/day
Calcium: 600 mg/day
Iron:21 mg/day

During pregnancy:
Beta carotene 6,400 micrograms/day
Calcium:1,200 mg/day
Iron:35 mg/day

For lactating women:
Beta carotene 7,600 micrograms/day
Calcium:1,200 mg/day
Iron:25 mg/day

Beta carotene 1,200-2,400 micrograms/day
Calcium:500- 600, mg/day
Iron:9-13 mg/day
Murraya koenigii
(Curry leaves)
Beta carotene 7,110 micrograms
Calcium: 830 mg
Iron 0.93 mg
Sprinklers used in Rice, soups, curries
Carica Papaya

Beta carotene: 880 micrograms
Calcium: 17 mg
Iron 0.5 mg
weaning food
Ipomea batatas
(Sweet Potato)

Beta carotene: 1,990 micrograms
Calcium: 46 mg
Iron 0.21 mg
weaning food