Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition

Nutrition of Kyrgyz schoolchildren to be improved through school gardens

2 April 2021 | Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – The tree planting ceremony was held at the school named after Zhumataev, located in the village of Erkin-Sai of Panfilov district of the Kyrgyz Republic. This event was attended by the representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Regional Development, the Ministry of Education and Science, the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Embassy of the Russian Federation.

This is a joint initiative of two sister agencies – FAO and WFP - through projects aiming at strengthening Food Security and Nutrition and optimizing the national School Meals programme in Kyrgyzstan, which are funded by the Russian Federation.

“Today is an important day for us, because by planting this garden we will enrich and diversify our children’s with fresh fruits, compotes and jams straight from the school garden,” - says Dinara Isakbekova, the school director. “Children's health is our top priority, and a balanced diet is the key to the well-being of our students.”

Through the School Meals programme, WFP in support of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic, has reached 185,000 primary school students in 640 pilot schools. At the school named after Zhumataev, WFP introduced hot meals in September 2015, and currently 180 primary school students receive a nutritious meal as part of the program.

pics©FAO/WFP/Aichurek Zhunusova
Fruit trees planting during a joint event of FAO and WFP in the school garden.

FAO's school gardens activities are complementary to the existing school meals programme, which not only supports healthy diets of schoolchildren, but ensures children learn how food is grown. It is known that school gardens are one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to diversify school menu with fresh products of own production and provide schools with additional income. School gardens and farms can also serve as unique tools for educating students and their families about nutrition and healthy eating, increasing children’s preferences for healthy foods, building their entrepreneurial skills as well as exposing them to sustainable and climate-smart natural resource management practices. The FAO technical assistance has been provided for the establishment of school gardens in 72 rural schools with above 30 000 of school students in Chui, Naryn, Talas and Issyk-Kul provinces. In total, 25 000 of fruit and berry seedlings were planted on the area of 24 hectares, which annual production capacity is estimated about 1 000 tones. The fruits from school gardens will be used to prepare meals for schoolchildren and their surplus sold for re-using additional income in improving a school infrastructure and diversifying school meals. Furthermore, the regulation on school gardens that aims to improve nutrition of school meals was developed with the FAO technical assistance in partnership with key institutions and adopted by the Kyrgyz Government in February 2021. Thus, a regulatory instrument on school garden helps further to define the administrative procedures for the establishment and approval of school gardens, creating a framework for their organization, financing and maintenance. Schools will receive full legal rights to establish a school farm on an available land plot in its territory and if there are enough human and technical resources.

pics©FAO/WFP/Aichurek Zhunusova
School students’ presentation in the rural school, Erkin-Sai village, Panfilov district, Kyrgyzstan.

“FAO sees its role not only in technical expertise and direct tree planting, it is also important for us to advocate among schoolchildren, teachers and parents the importance of balanced nutrition, and the participation of everyone in this important chain of improving food security in the country”, - said Adnan Qureshi, FAO Representative in the Kyrgyz Republic.

“In WFP we believe that School Meals is one of the most important investments for the future of our children. A balanced and nutritious food contribute to healthy bodies and bright minds for a well-educated and successful future generation of Kyrgyzstan. - said Andrea Bagnoli, Country Director of WFP in the Kyrgyz Republic. – Another investment in future is the trees that are plant today. It is not just about having fruits on the school table, but it is also an act of care for the well-being of our planet.”

School meals optimization in the Kyrgyz Republic is a widely recognized initiative, which has been receiving critical support from national and local authorities, communities, and donors. By 2022, WFP and the Kyrgyz Government plan to reach all schools in the country with nutritious hot meals, including through the adoption of the School Meals Law, a critical breakthrough in boosting the school meals development in the country.

The school food and nutrition program that is linked to the agricultural sector has been actively supported within the framework of the Russian-funded FAO project “Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition in selected countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia" since 2017. The technical assistance included a complex approach through an establishment of a centralized system model for supplying schools with agricultural fresh produce in Kemin District, setting up school orchards, and providing policy and regulatory support on school gardens. In 2021, FAO will continue its support to the implementation of the new school gardens regulation in Kyrgyzstan and sharing knowledge and lessons learned at regional and global scale.