The influence of fast food stores, changing lifestyles with both parents working, a poor knowledge of dietary nutrition, and reduced intake of fruits and vegetables are contributory factors to the problem of malnutrition among school children.
Recently the government of the Philippines has put in frameworks to support a program of school level gardening, bringing together agencies such as the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture. The school feeding program is receiving increased attention in the past two years. Overall the opportunities for leveraging the nutrition contributions of school gardens have been considerably enhanced.
In the past few years the Philippines has a national program on school gardening. The International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI) and the Department of Education Cavite Province are working on a program to demonstrate the value of linking three related areas of school nutrition: gardening, feeding and nutrition education. This IDRC supported program (See video here) is designed to generate evidence on the value of school gardens and to establish on the ground demonstrations of the value of linking feeding programs to school garden programs.
The school gardening program uses an environmentally sound approach to produce a diverse range of vegetables with no chemical inputs of any kind. A diverse garden guarantees good nutrition providing Vitamin A and C, Iron, Calcium, Protein and various other micronutrients. To link gardens and school feeding program, standardized recipes that are appetizing to school kids were developed by FNRI.
The IDRC supported project is also designed to generate educational resources for use in scaling out the program to other schools. Posters are designed to provide key educational messages for children, teachers and parents. These posters have been distributed to as many as 5 provinces all over the country.
Within the next months IIRR, FNRI and the Department of Education plan to bring this experience and these results to the policy makers in Manila in the hope of influencing the national efforts in school nutrition. IIRR is also working to support the work of the Department of Social Welfare in day care centers in the province of Cavite. All information, education, and communication materials developed by the project such as posters and recipe booklet are available for download at schoolnutrition.comli.com.
The components of the integrated school nutrition program currently being tested and adapted in the province of Cavite are as follows:
COMPONENT 1. ENHANCED SCHOOL GARDENING
The introduction of Bio-intensive Gardening Technology (BIG) in schools aims to enhance the productivity and functionality of gardens by improving the garden ecosystem and agro biodiversity
The gardens rely on green leaf fertilizer. The use of deep dug raised beds is expected to help schools grow vegetables in spite of rising temperatures and variable rainfall (see BIG Video). Gardens are diverse and provide a wider array of crops of green leafy vegetables, root crops, legumes and fruit vegetables (tomato and eggplant). Bio-intensive gardens are considered climate smart as they use less water, no chemical inputs and use only seeds that are produced locally, thus, gardens have small carbon footprint.
Introduction and popularization of nutritionally dense indigenous vegetables
Indigenous vegetables are known to be hardy, thus, more tolerant to pest and drought. These vegetables are easy to maintain making it appropriate to be grown in the school setting. Schools were also encouraged to produce seeds within the garden to ensure availability of seeds at any time of the year.
Here are some posters and flyers we use:
Introduction of fertilizer trees in the garden system
Healthy soil is key to having a productive and sustainable garden. One of the factors affecting the overall school garden productivity is poor soil quality. Gliricidia sepium (kakawate, madre de cacao) was introduced to schools to serve as bordeline trees. Unlike other nitrogen-fixing trees, Gliricidia sepium provides more biomass and can withstand constant pruning. The leaves are used as green manure.
Leaves are available for use as early as 10 months after stem cuttings or seeds are planted. Stems are cut not lower than 1 meter above the ground and leaves are incorporated in the garden plots. In ten to fourteen days, plots can be planted again. In the dry season, trimming is not recommended. The trees are allowed to grow until the start of the rainy season. In the dry season, trees help lower the temperature within the garden. Furthermore, the cool environment also reduces evaporation of applied water.
Schools are encouraged to apply various soil and water conservation technique
In the Philippines, the annual school vacation falls during the dry season starting mid March to May. During this period, most school gardens are left untended. Since gardens are left out during this period, teachers have to start over from weeding to garden bed and soil preparation at the start of the school year. The practice of cover cropping using leguminous crops such as cowpea (Vigna umguiculata) and rice bean (Phaseolus calcaratus Roxb) was introduced as one way to improve soil quality during this period. Low organic matter in the soil is one of the major issues identified affecting schools. Cover crops serve as protection for the soil from drying up, a source of fertilizer, and helps reduce weed infestation.
Establishment of 5 decentralized Crop Museums in 5 schools
Crop Museums serve as decentralized facilities where teachers, students and community members can view a diverse range of nutritionally relevant and hardy vegetable varieties. It includes shrubs, root crops, creepers, and short season annual crops. It will also serve as nurseries (source of planting materials) for surrounding schools and communities. The mother plants are preserved in crop museums through the entire year.
COMPONENT 2: ENHANCED SUPPLEMENTARY SCHOOL FEEDING
A 3-week cycle menu that utilizes diverse vegetables that can be found in the garden was developed and tested in 2 schools.
COMPONENT 3: NUTRITION EDUCATION
Two modules were developed for use to educate parents and school children about nutrition. The development of the modules was based on the result of the knowledge, attitude and practice survey done with school children and parents in various schools.