About Vegetables Go to School

Vegetables Go to School: Improving Nutrition by Agricultural Diversification is a project to address malnutrition, particularly among children, by establishing comprehensive school vegetable garden programs in selected countries in Africa and in Asia. The project, proposed as a nine-year, three-phase initiative, is part of a larger international movement to improve nutritional security and reduce malnutrition. The project is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Why grow vegetable gardens in schools?

School gardenSchool gardens are gaining prominence due to the promotion of balanced diets, nutrition education, and the development of livelihood skills (FAO, 2010). However, school gardens are not a new concept. In 1957, FAO and UNICEF started the so-called Applied Nutrition Programs aimed at improving nutrition through school and community gardens, which were sometimes combined with small livestock production and fish ponds (FAO, 1966). Drescher (2002) gives an overview of school garden programmes in developing countries and describes success stories as well as failures. School gardens have to be conceptualised and implemented together with the local community and must correspond to the local socio-cultural and environmental context, particularly in the choice of crops and in the way the garden is managed. Successful school garden projects not only target school children, but also school administrators, teachers, and parents. School garden programmes can have multiplier effects by encouraging the establishment of private vegetable gardens at the homes of school children as reported by Drescher (2002). Among the important lessons learned is that successful school garden programmes cannot be created in isolation, but must build links between nutrition, health, agriculture and education interventions to develop synergy (Holmer and Monse, 2006; Holmer, 2011).

In line with this, successful school vegetable gardens aim 1) to achieve better understanding of biological processes, sustainable agricultural practices, and raising environmental awareness; 2) to provide better information about healthy food choices, encouraging intake of diversified diets and ensuring water supply, sanitation and hygiene; and 3) to reduce the cost of food and provide a safety net to poor people by giving them the ability to grow their own food.

Despite more than fifty years of experience with school garden programmes, the evidence that these programmes contribute to nutritional, educational and economic outcomes is not well documented and largely anecdotal. It is important to learn from these programmes in a more structured manner and collect data to improve their efficacy and quantify outcomes.