School gardens: education and nutrition go together
Support by farmers and parents is essential
30 June 2005, Rome - School gardens can be a powerful tool to improve the quality of nutrition and education of children and their families in rural and urban areas in developing countries, if they are integrated with national agricultural, nutrition and education programmes, FAO said today.
Since 1997, over 150 school garden microprojects have been supported by FAO's TeleFood programme in more than 40 countries. Larger FAO technical cooperation projects are under way, including capacity-building for long-term national school garden programmes.
School garden initiatives are being supported by various FAO programmes. These include emergency rehabilitation assistance programmes in Mozambique and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a nutrition education programme in Rwanda and the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) in Guatemala and Sierra Leone. In Brazil, a school garden project is being implemented in the context of the Brazilian Zero Hunger Programme.
A rich harvest of knowledge
The main benefit of school gardens is that children learn how to grow healthy food and how to use it for better nutrition. This can best be done if the fresh garden produce - such as fruits and vegetables - contributes to an existing school meal programme which provides the bulk of the diet.
Beyond this, school gardens also serve for environmental education and for personal and social development by adding a practical dimension to these subjects. They may also reinforce basic academic skills like reading, writing, biology and arithmetic.
FAO therefore encourages schools to create learning gardens of moderate size, which can be easily managed by students, teachers and parents, but which include a great variety of different nutritious vegetables and fruits, as well as occasionally some small-scale livestock like chickens or rabbits. Production methods are deliberately kept simple so that they can be easily replicated by students and parents at their homes.
"Although children, teachers, parents and the responsible ministries are enthusiastic about their school gardens, they often face difficult challenges. Not every school has sufficient land and water available. In addition, the unavailability of quality seeds can prevent children from repeating at home what they have learned in school," said Ellen Muehlhoff, senior officer in FAO's Food and Nutrition Division.
Therefore, it is important to encourage the school community and farmers to support the schools and to make use of synergies with rural development and agriculture programmes.
Emerging partnerships with WFP and UNICEF and local NGOs to link school gardens to school feeding and school health programmes also help schools to overcome the constraints they encounter.
The FAO school garden technical projects are related also to the global flagship partnership programme on "Education for Rural People" (ERP), launched in 2002 during the World Summit on Sustainable Development. They are expected to be a component in the new FAO/WHO joint initiative - "Fruit and Vegetables for Health" - to enhance fruit and vegetable consumption.
In 2004, FAO and the UNESCO Institute of Education Planning co-published a book on school gardening, entitled "Revisiting garden-based learning in basic education". The book addresses the impact of school gardens on community life, reviews the history and theoretical frameworks of school gardens, and presents the results of specific evaluations of selected programmes around the world.
An FAO concept note on school gardens, recently issued, explains how to improve child nutrition and education through the promotion of school garden programmes.
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