Agro-biodiversity Conservation in Schools: A Role for Crop Museums

Crop museums in schools serve as a focal point for saving crop varieties. This is a garden where teachers, students and community members can view a diverse range of nutritionally relevant and climate hardy vegetable varieties. It can include trees, shrubs, root and tuber crops, vines, and short-season annual crops. Crop museums also serve as nurseries (source of planting materials) for surrounding schools and communities. The mother plants are preserved in crop museums throughout the entire year.

Maragondon Elementary School

San Roque Elementary School

Why are crop museums important?

Over the centuries, backyard gardeners and family farms collected and preserved a diverse range of vegetable types and varieties. We are rapidly losing this diversity (agro-biodiversity). Once lost, we can never regain these important heritage varieties.

The Philippines is used to be known for its diverse backyard gardens. However, with modernization and increasing reliance on commercial imports of vegetables, this rich diversity of crops and, the culinary heritage associated with it, is also being lost. Moreover, we now realize that when we lose a variety of vegetable we might never be able to recover it again. With the loss of varieties, we might also tend to eat less diverse diets. This is especially evident when food prices (especially vegetables and fruits) are rising. The poor, who spend more than half their earnings on food, are affected the most: they tend to eat cheaper but less nutritious crops. No wonder malnutrition rates have risen among school-age children.

The fact that some of these varieties grown by our grandparents are still around only means that they can easily adapt to changes, hardy, and resistant to pests. Many of these varieties tolerate variable weather and changing climate conditions. We need to save them before they are totally lost. We might even find some of these crops useful in the future, when our climate has changed significantly.

Lima bean 2KadyosRice bean seeds and pods

Eggplant (Mistisa)Amaranth leavesWinged bean 2

Hyacinth bean 1IMG_1958Cowpea red 2

School gardens and backyards can be used to grow and save our crop diversity for future generations. Diverse gardens can often mean richer dietary diversity and therefore, better nutrition for kids and families. In fact, indigenous vegetables in the Philippines are generally more nutritious than many introduced crops.

School gardens can serve as repository for our vanishing genetic resources heritage the same way as a museum helps conserve valuable artifacts. Let’s start today! Let’s collect, propagate and share our seeds with our friends in school as well as parents, teachers and our neighbors.

What are the minimum requirements for a crop museum?

  •  The garden area should be at least 200 square meter or more. The plot should receive sunlight for at least 6 hours a day, with good water source and a drainage system in case of heavy rain.
  •  The school administrator should ensure that there are no potential future risks, e.g., use of land for buildings, on risks from flooding.
  •  The area should be fenced on all sides, with a double row of kakawate (planted 0.5m apart) to protect the garden from winds and typhoons and to serve as source of green leaf manure for the garden.
  • A small nursery – a simple shed with a transparent roof – should be set up for raising seedlings in trays and plastic bags.
  • To ensure high seed productivity, the garden should use bio-intensive methods using permanent, raised deep dug (12”) beds. Bio-intensive gardens ensure the highest possible productivity per unit area of land.
  • It is important that a committed school garden teacher is identified, whose administrator allows him/her to devote time for caring for and tendering the garden. Crop museums need dedicated care.

What crops to grow?

Indigenous vegetable crops that are nutritionally important and pf relevance to school feeding programs and for backyard gardens are given priority.

These are examples of nutritionally important vegetables (see annex A for a more comprehensive listing):

1. Amaranth (kulitis)2. Long-fruited jute (saluyot)

3. Philippine spinach (talinum)

4. Horseradish (malunggay)

5. Rice bean (tapilan)6. Cowpea (paayap)

7. Lima bean (patani)

8. Hyacinth bean (batao)

9. Ash/white gourd (kundol)10. Pigeon pea (kadios)

11. Winged bean (sigarilyas)

12. Okra

 What are the supplies and materials needed?

  • Basic garden tools
  • Plastic bags
  • Trays for seedlings
  • Mini nursery shed (for seedlings)

 How to start the collection of seeds/planting materials for crops propagation of these heritage crops?

  • The designated school district crop museum can organize a week long campaign to collectseeds ideally in the month of September and again in December and April (peak periods for seed production of local varieties).
  • School children and PTA members are asked to collect seeds from individual backyard gardens in rural communities (from individual gardeners not from seed shops). Varieties that were grown in the same geographic area for a minimum of three years, without chemical use can be considered potential/useful materials. No quantity of seed is small – even three seeds of a vanishing heritage crop will do!
  • Collect basic information from the grower:
  • Name of seed donor
  • Name of Student/Teacher who collected
    • Name of village
    • Local name of crop/variety
    • Uses
    • Special features (e.g. pest or drought resistant)
  • At the school, an accession number is provided by the supervising teacher, e.g., MAR 001, MAR 002, etc. for Maragondon.
  • A biodiversity register is maintained in each school. Do not request for complicated information. The basic information listed above will do. However, after growing the crop the teacher can continue to update the list, noting down special characteristics of the crop.
  • After the week-long collection campaign, seeds should be planted in the garden. Trellises are raised along periphery or at one end of garden plot for vine crops.
  • Crop museums may also need to do vegetative propagation using cuttings (malunggay, talinum).
  • The gardening practices and principles outlined in the BIG standard for Schools will used by schools in maintaining the gardens. (See Annex B.)
  • At harvest time only select seeds from a healthy plant. After harvest, seeds should be dried properly. Ideally, seeds should be dried for 3-4 hours for 3-5 days (avoid the mid-day scorching sun).Too much drying can kill the seed.
  • Before storing seeds, inspect the seeds well. Remove infested seeds to ensure that healthy seeds are free from pest and weed seeds.
  • All accessions of seeds should be multiplied on annual basis to retain viability, i.e. replant.
  • Bulk quantities of seeds can be placed in paper packets which are being placed in air-tight sealed containers. Tubers and peanuts can be stored in bags made of netting that allows circulation of air.
  • Seeds are distributed to partner schools at the start of the year.

What are the other roles of school crop museums?

  • Crop museums are also responsible to train teachers on the importance of plant genetic resources conservation, climate change adaptation, seed production, extraction, and preservation and storage methods. Prior to this, a training of trainer’s session will be conducted for district level crop museum teachers (conservators).

How to start seed exchange between schools and between districts?

  • Two seed exchanges can be facilitated, between schools and between school districts.
  • Schools will distribute “diversity” kits (20 small packets each with 5-20 seeds) in each kit.
  • Each school district will label seed packets with information on their crop museum.

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AGROBIODIVERSITY POSTER

Agro biodiversity poster_English

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One Response to Agro-biodiversity Conservation in Schools: A Role for Crop Museums

  1. modestaenriquez says:

    this article is very important to us because we are to start our crop museum in our school as part of our gulayan sa paaralan

    Like

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