Permaculture and Bio-Intensive Home Gardens:
Growing Household Nutrition Security for People Living With HIV



HIV/AIDS and food and nutrition security are inextricably linked.  Food insecurity is a structural issue contributing to the spread of HIV, where hungry people may turn to unsafe practices, such as transactional sex, in order just to feed themselves.  Once infected, malnutrition increases susceptibility to opportunistic infection and hastens the onset of AIDS.  As people living with HIV become sick, they are unable to farm nor engage in other livelihood activities, thus threatening the nutritional and economic security of themselves and their families. Within the context of climate change, economic downturns and insecure land tenure, especially amongst women and the rural poor, this situation becomes even more serious. Additionally, for people on antiretroviral treatment, inadequate caloric intake has been clearly identified as the principal reason for the failure of clinical response to anti-retroviral therapy.1


In response to these critical issues, beginning in 2006 and continuing to this day, Peace Corps Tanzania embarked upon an innovative program for all Environment, Health and Education Volunteers and their host country national (HCN) counterparts in Permaculture and Bio-Intensive Home Gardens, or, “Permagardens”.  The goal of the program has been to provide people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) with an attainable, practical and flexible method to increase their own household food, nutrition and income security and thereby their overall empowerment.   Results have proven the method’s effectiveness to significantly increase household food production and income (from very small areas close to home and managed well) with a high probability of replication by other organizations and individuals.  The method helps families build resiliency to deal with major global issues on their own terms.  The method is sustainable as it involves only local materials; fits within accepted gender roles; and strengthens the local environment in an economically viable manner.


Families have seen yield increases of over 600%, when compared to conventional farming methods even in semi-arid regions. High quality food is now grown near homes where little had grown before. This simple, visual technique is suitable for low literacy populations; requires little to no capital outlay by the family itself; and has been accomplished solely with local tools, seeds and plants.  It is easy to learn, do and teach.  Resultant local trainings conducted by PCVs and their Counterparts, often partnering with local NGOs and PLWHA Groups, has lead to adoption by hundreds of rural families in only a few months. While the method does require an initial increase in labor for soil preparation, composting and the layout of water retention swales, this applies only to the first growing season.  With proper and simple management, planting and care, weed growth and water loss are reduced by 80%, significantly cutting overall labor requirements while at the same time increasing home food yield and income potential.


With a Permagarden next to their home, all families, including those living with HIV, can once again feel in control of their own futures. Higher yields of nutrient dense staple grains, fruits, vegetables and pulses have given these families reason to be hopeful for a future free of hunger.  With this freedom from hunger comes an openness and desire to accept further positive behavior change strategies. 


PCVs from each sector receive hands on training on both the method and its effective extension during Pre Service Training. Once at site they are encouraged to practice the methods with local families to continue to learn by doing. At the subsequent In-Service Trainings, additional practical training is provided alongside their HCN counterparts enabling them to return to site as an effective teaching team.


Peter Jensen
Permaculture Specialist, Peace Corps Tanzania

[1] Institute of Medicine Report, (2007); “PEPFAR Implementation Promise and Progress.”


Permagardening field manual (Sept 2011)
(doc, 4.2 MB)

Peace Corps Permagardens
Growing Family Empowerment and Resilience
(pdf, 8.3 MB - pptx, 15 MB)
The Garden Dialogue Approach
(docx, 150 KB)
Conserving the Environment with Conservation Agriculture
From Permagarden to Farmers Field
(pdf, 2.6 MB - ppt, 4.5 MB)
Permagardening lesson plans
(doc, 1.1 MB)
Compost: The Soul of Soil
6 billion microbes per handful can't be wrong!
(pdf, 2.2 MB - ppt, 4.2 MB)

Bio-intensive companion planting
(doc, 38 KB)