Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Healthy lifestyles and entrepreneurial minds in Sri Lanka

Entrepreneurial School Gardens promote healthy eating, modern agricultural practices and career opportunities

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Students at the Senkadagala school for children with disabilities begin their scheduled lessons after working in the school garden. The Senkadagala school is one of 400 in Sri Lanka where FAO has implemented the Entrepreneurial School Garden programme. ©FAO


Before the school bell rings announcing the start of lessons at the Senkadagala School in Kandy, central Sri Lanka, its students have already begun their lessons in their school garden.

Past its walls adorned with plastic bottles recycled as make-shift pots for brightly coloured plants, some push around wheelbarrows, ready to begin pruning, weeding and harvesting fruits and vegetables that are destined for the students’ meals. 

Others begin work in the nurseries where the potted anthuriums and cacti are kept: these plants are carefully tended to be sold, along with the surplus fruit and vegetable harvest that the school garden yields. These conscientious gardeners are the Senkadagala School students who have sight and/or hearing impairments.

Students here learn about their ecosystem and the nutritional value of indigenous vegetation. While students with hearing disabilities are taught through sign language, those with impaired vision are trained to identify plants through touch and smell.

The Senkadagala school is one of 400 in Sri Lanka where the Entrepreneurial School Garden programme has been implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with funding from the UN Sri Lanka SDG Fund.

The goal of the programme is to promote nutrition by improving healthy eating habits through food cultivation and preparation. Additionally, it aims to inculcate entrepreneurial thinking among students by introducing sales and marketing opportunities like selling ornamental plants and painted pots at exhibitions and food fairs.

Students are also educated on dietary diversity and nutrition and plan their school gardens according to their nutritional needs. With the introduction of modern agricultural methods such as using plastic mulch and irrigation systems, they learn how to control weed growth and insect infestation and how to reduce water evaporation and soil erosion to maximize the productivity of their cultivations.

Students harvest, plant and tend to their vegetable plants. The goal of the programme is to promote nutrition by improving healthy eating habits through food cultivation. ©FAO

Sasala Maduwanthi, the Agriculture teacher at the school, explained how the FAO programme is a learning tool. “By figuring out the geometry involved when demarcating plant beds and boundaries and experientially seeing the lifecycle of butterflies, for example, our students learn while they garden,” Maduwanthi says.

She added, “The programme is especially beneficial for our students as it trains them on entrepreneurial skills essential for future self-employment.”

Confirming this statement, Theekshana Malinga, a student with blindness, who has already started a home garden by implementing the concepts he learned at school, said that, after graduating he “looks forward to continuing in the field of agriculture and perhaps even setting up his own nursery to grow potted flowering plants for sale.”

He beams as he recalls how his outlook on nutrition has shifted since the launch of the programme, and how proud he is to consume food that the students themselves cultivate, as it is free of harmful chemicals and pesticides and noticeably tastier.

Piumi Madhubashini Kumarasinghe, a student with a hearing impairment from the same school, has also started a home garden with chilli peppers and radishes. She plans to establish her own anthurium nursery one day.

Kumudini Abeyruwan, the school’s Principal, noted that the absentee rate at school has drastically reduced since the launch of the programme. The beautification of the school premises has had a positive impact on the students and the practical entrepreneurial skills they learn boost their self-confidence.

“We are able to provide healthy meals to the students and instil a sense of confidence, knowing that they consume what they toiled for,” she concluded.    

About four hours away from her colleagues in Kandy, Pamodi Bhagya from Vishaka Balika Madya Maha Vidyalaya (VBMMV) a girls’ school in the town of Bandarawela says that “Besides learning about gardening, the programme has also taught us how to research new concepts on our own and provided us with practical knowledge and skills useful for our daily lives. These include waste management and recycling, commercializing the garden and using the space we have in the most productive ways.”

In recognition of the exemplary efforts, both schools received additional funding through the project. With this, the students at Senkadagala purchased polythene ground covers to prevent weed growth and fitted an irrigation system.

Like at the Senkadagala school, students of the Vishaka Balika Madya Maha Vidyalaya school are learning to think like entrepreneurs, selling ornamental plants and pots at exhibitions and food festivals. ©FAO

FAO implemented the project in close collaboration with the Sri Lanka Ministry of Education, Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, Department of Indigenous Medicine and the Chief Secretariats of the relevant provinces. Government officials hope to roll this programme out on a national scale.

Mahesh Attanayake, an Agriculture Instructor at the Department of Agriculture, comments, “As the initiative promotes value addition and marketing concepts, it enhances entrepreneurial skills among students, introduces them to modern agricultural practices and therefore will facilitate a bright future and careers for the students.” 

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