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Cost-benefit analysis of a kitchen-garden intervention in Pakistan

Summary of Research1

Save the Children. Cost-benefit analysis of the kitchen garden intervention: Women and children/infants improved nutrition in Sindh, Pakistan Report, July 2016.

Location: Pakistan

What we know: Kitchen gardens are an intervention intended to impact nutrition positively by increasing year-round access to nutritious foods.

What this article adds: Save the Children carried out a study to explore the effectiveness, appropriateness and sustainability of a kitchen gardens project implemented over four years in Pakistan. The study included a cost-benefit analysis. The return on investment for Save the Children was very low and unprofitable at $1: $0.32. With Save the Children support, the project yielded a positive return on investment for beneficiaries ($1:$1.69), but became unprofitable once external support was removed ($1:$0.53). Additional social benefits such as improved skills were not monetised, although this would have increased the potential value of the intervention. In conclusion, while there are short-term gains, a more cost-effective model and/or broader interventions are needed long-term.

Women and Children/Infant Improved Nutrition in Sindh (WINS) is a four-year project, funded by the European Union (EU), with the objective of improving the nutrition status of children, pregnant and lactating women (PLWs) in three districts of Sindh Province in Pakistan. The kitchen gardens intervention is one of the nutrition-sensitive activities of the project, intended to increase year-round access to nutritious foods, thereby bringing down the cost of a nutritious diet, increasing self-sufficiency and improving dietary diversity. A total of 10,000 predominantly female-headed households who have sufficient access to small areas of productive land were supported to establish healthy and low-input kitchen gardens. A study was carried out to explore the effectiveness, appropriateness and sustainability of the kitchen gardens. A cost-benefit analysis was also carried out to examine the return on investment by Save the Children for beneficiaries and for households to continue the intervention after the life of the project. The methodology, key findings and learning points are described in this report.

A mapping exercise with project staff identified major outcomes and data on benefits and outcomes were gathered from a sample of project beneficiaries (372 from 10,000 with 95% confidence level). Proxy indicators were used to monetise the outcomes identified, taking into account the wider context through use of information from existing Cost of Diet (CoD) and Household Economic Analysis (HEA) studies conducted in 2013. Project costs were analysed to identify attributable direct costs. Costs and benefits were then compared to identify basic returns on investment. It was not possible to monetise some important costs and benefits, such as human resources, improved skills and empowerment of women, which is a limitation of the study.


Specific costs considered included:

  • Labour: Opportunity cost was calculated based on the market rate for daily unskilled labour. This was estimated at 30 hours per month for each women on garden activities, which ‘cost’ Rs. 1,380 ($13.02) per month.
  • Training: This was estimated based on $2.97 per diem for each of the four training sessions attended and $43 trainer charge per session.
  • Tools and inputs: This was calculated as $2.63 per beneficiary per season for inputs and $28.32 per beneficiary per season for a tool kit.
  • Travel costs: Borne by beneficiaries to sell their produce in nearby markets (on average, Rs.40 ($0.37) per visit, two visits per beneficiary).


Benefits considered in this analysis included increase in household income from produce sale (average income was $13.39 per month per beneficiary household), savings by beneficiaries because of the availability of vegetables (average $9.56 per month per household) and improved nutrition and health status of households as a percentage savings in healthcare costs (the same percentage contribution of kitchen gardens to household income was applied to savings on healthcare as a rough approximation).

Women’s empowerment was noted as a benefit, but it was not possible to monetise this. Furthermore, qualitative discussions revealed that women had not experienced significant empowerment; although primarily responsible for tending the kitchen gardens, they do not have control over the incomes they produce. Men controlled produce sale in 74% of households and only 27% of the women played an active role in deciding how the income would be utilised.

Positive changes in food security were revealed over the three-year period of the intervention (reduction in beneficiaries classified as poor from 89% to 19%). While the kitchen gardens may have contributed, other interventions in the WINS project and broader development and economic growth were also responsible.

Regarding sustainability, over two thirds (64%) of beneficiaries were currently still tending their kitchen gardens. However, productivity is comparatively lower compared to the first season of activity. The project successfully engaged the Agricultural Extension Department in training the beneficiaries in tending kitchen gardens, and follow-up visits by government officials were facilitated in terms of transportation and honorarium. However, given the meagre resources of government departments, little or no follow-up of beneficiaries by agriculture department officials is anticipated. However, the project has established linkages between the communities and the agriculture department which were non-existent before. Communities can access the department for any technical support post-exit.

Investment return

The return on investment for Save the Children was very low and unprofitable at $1: $0.32; the return is likely to decline in line with an expected fall in productivity. With Save the Children support, the project yielded a positive return on investment for beneficiaries ($14 cost per month, $23.6 return per month; $1:$1.69). Without external support, it is no longer profitable, costing $44.80 per month with the same, or even declining, expected return ($1:$0.53 with current return). In fact, 36% of the beneficiaries have ceased kitchen garden activities within two years of their participation in the intervention, due to the perception that it is not sufficiently profitable to continue.


The authors conclude that kitchen gardens are only profitable with external support. While there are short-term gains, a more cost-effective model is needed long-term. It is worth noting a number of additional social benefits which were not monetised that may go some way to validate the intervention: kitchen gardens have improved beneficiary skills, income, nutritional quality of diets and household savings.

Lessons learned for Save the Children considering future kitchen-garden projects include: setting clear targets in relation to benefits; developing a cost-effective model for continuation post-agency intervention; and further development of the cost-benefit analysis tool on social returns on investment to foster critical reflection on programmes.

Additional approaches to ensure the greater empowerment of women are needed, such as linking women with markets and addressing some of the issues around intra-household control over resources. Activities that will ensure greater sustainability of the intervention include linking home producers/farmers groups to the relevant government departments and private sector actors from the outset. Applying modelling of yields and impact on household incomes and affordability at project design stage could help evaluate the potential long-term economic and social viability and sustainability of this type of intervention. Learning agendas should be developed at the outset to apply to the life of the project. 

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Reference this page

Cost-benefit analysis of a kitchen-garden intervention in Pakistan. Field Exchange 54, February 2017. p32.



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