SOME 58 “lighthouse” schools were put up by the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) to teach K-to-12 students gardening as a reliable solution to malnutrition that is prevalent among schoolchildren.
IIRR senior program advisor Julian Gonsalves said the lighthouse schools, through its Gardening and Nutrition Education with School-based Supplementary Feeding (Garnesupp), were proven a viable way to source food for the schools’ feeding program.
“We’re interested in influencing their thinking. We have a very powerful device to influence young people on basic environmental and natural resource concepts,” Gonsalves said in a statement.
“By growing indigenous vegetables through bio-intensive gardening (BIG), you’re actually conserving our indigenous varieties for future use. Likewise, the gardens enlighten pupils and parents on nutrition education,” he added.
BIG is a cost-saving, viable farming system for any poor community since it practically uses no expensive chemical fertilizer inputs.
Planting legumes (cowpea, rice bean) in deeply dug plots keep microbes alive and soil temperature low. It prevents weed growth. Kakawate trees are planted around the garden as perimeter wall and wind-breakers.
The green leaves are used as fertilizer for the plots—enabling carbon storage unlike chemical fertilizers that contribute to greenhouse gas emission. The garden produce is rendered safe and free from pesticide residues.
The program takes inspiration from Cornell University’s International Nutrition program. It uses nutrition education among children or parents as a tool in mitigating malnutrition.
The United Nations Millennium Campaign earlier said that improved nutrition education has been one of the key factors to prevent 12,000 deaths a year worldwide.
An IIRR study showed that “school-based supplementary feeding using produce from school gardens effectively improved nutritional status and reduced anemia rates.”
It noted a significant decrease in anemia prevalence from 20.8 percent to 4.2 percent in a group of children with a feeding program using iron fortified rice compared to the children with ordinary rice and those that never had a feeding program at all.
Moreover, savings from the use of indigenous vegetables from school gardens in six months reached P8,851 and benefited 146 schoolchildren.
The schools included in the study were the Felipe Calderon Elementary School in Tanza, Cavite and Gen. Aloha Elementary School in Gen. Trias, Cavite.
The study was conducted with the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), International Development Research Centre and the Department of Education.
DOST-FNRI noted in its National Nutrition Survey that 3.35 million children aged four years old and below were found undernourished under the MDG Philippine Progress Report 2010.
In 2013, a DOST-FNRI survey showed the number of underweight children aged five-10 years totaled 29 percent, children with stunting (low height for age) at 29.9 percent, and those affected by wasting (low weight for height) at 8.6 percent.
“These statistics are alarming and are more disturbing when viewed at the household level,” said the IIRR.
Meanwhile, IIRR Country Director Emilita Monville Oro noted that the Garnesupp lighthouses perform another food security function—as crop museums.
“We are rapidly losing this agrobiodiversity because once lost, we can never regain these important heritage varieties,” said Oro.
The crop museum enhances intra-species diversity, such as in having different kinds of sweet potato. This reduces risks from crop failure that becomes more frequent in climate change due to rising temperature that causes increase in pest and diseases.
Most of these indigenous vegetables such as patani and bataw (kind of beans) are drought tolerant. These are not bought from seed companies and planting them is the best way to conserve the beans.
When these are absent, poor families spend 50 percent of their earnings for food alone, hence they resort to cheaper but less nutritious crops.
Crop museums are relished for their educational worth—a showcase of nutritionaly relevant and climate hardy plant species—trees, shrubs, root and tuber crops, vines, and short-season annual crops.
These are nurseries–source of vegetables where mother plants are preserved.
“School gardens are a repository for our vanishing genetic resources heritage the same way as a museum helps conserve valuable artifacts,” he added.
Crop museums are also responsible to train teachers, while seed exchanges are facilitated between schools and other institutions in order to store and preserve more plant species.