Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition

When learning is fun – FAO project in Armenia promotes education through agriculture

18-21 October 2019 | Ararat Province, Armenia – Never has learning been as exciting as in five schools of the Ararat Province in Armenia, where the Russian-funded project “Developing Capacity for Strengthening Food Security and Nutrition in Selected Countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia” has established greenhouses and apple orchards in the schoolyards to teach children about food, the environment, health and hygiene.

With the rapid developments taking place across the country, including in agriculture, it is important to stay abreast of what is new. Education is certainly the key to it, but not everything is taught in schools. In Armenia, agriculture is not included in the school programme, even though it is a very important sector of the economy and the love and respect towards agriculture needs to be built from the very early years of life. FAO’s project provides this opportunity.

Cooperating with the Ministries of Agriculture, Education, Social Affairs and Labour, WFP and the Social and Industrial Food Service Institute (SIFI), FAO worked in five schools in Ararat Province covered by the National School Feeding Programme. In collaboration with the local community, the project developed schoolyards, aimed at improving the capacity of school staff and local farmers to produce prepare and market locally grown and diverse agricultural products. According to the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in Europe and Central Asia, Armenia is primarily affected by malnutrition and deficiencies in zinc, iron and other micronutrients. Through this project, schools were offered a unique opportunity to benefit from fresh produce and take a step towards a healthier diet. Furthermore, schools are used for their potential to educate on sustainable agricultural practices and nutritional well-being.

Within the framework of the project, three greenhouses with modern heating, ventilation and drip irrigation systems were established in three schools of Ararat Province – Vedi School No1, Verin Artashat and Surenavan secondary schools. Different types of greenhouses were built: a small greenhouse to cover the school requirements for additional food supply; a medium-sized one that also allows for the production of surpluses to be sold on the market; and a large greenhouse that can be used to produce food not only for the school itself, but also for neighbouring schools and for selling surpluses.

©FAO/Ani Grigoryan
©FAO/Ani Grigoryan

Vegetables and greens grown in these greenhouses are used for the preparation of fresh salads, which are added to schoolchildren’s basic hot meals to improve dietary diversity and nutritional value. Schools sell surpluses of grown products on the local market, and the money earned is used to further improve school feeding. Above all, greenhouses serve as a platform for teaching schoolchildren the basics of agricultural labour and cultivation of healthy and tasty vegetables and greens, which are necessary for their full development. Modern technologies that are used in the schools greenhouses also help local farmers to learn how to improve yields in their fields. Apart from the greenhouses, two apple orchards were established in Taperakan and Nor Kyanq communities of the same Province. Apple was chosen, as it is especially rich in iron and various vitamins, has longer shelf life compared to peach or apricot for example, and most importantly, because children like it very much.  Special semi-dwarf varieties were planted, for them to yield already the third year.

To help the schoolchildren better understand the cultivation process and gain basic knowledge and skills on the art of garden management, the Project agronomists hold interactive trainings for them, in particular on cultivation of cucumbers and tomatoes in greenhouses, as well as on the proper management of orchards, providing information on correct pruning techniques, irrigation, etc. The children enjoy the trainings very much, ask questions and are very active during discussions. The people in charge of the maintenance and cultivation of the greenhouses and orchards, as well as teachers and the directors also participate.

The trainings include both theory and practice, showing in situ the wonders of nature. This is where they can actually see all happen and taste the fruits of their efforts.

The Project has also produced guidelines on cucumber and tomato cultivation in greenhouses, which were provided to the participating schools, while the schools owning the apple orchards, were provided with a handbook on pruning techniques, as well as manuals on cultivation of apples.

Our actions are our future, and we have to start today!