A pilot project that will hopefully lead to the widespread adoption of “climate smart” gardens in the nations’ schools has been launched in six schools in Laguna by the South East Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) with the cooperation of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), SEARCA said in a statement this week.
The project, which was co-funded by SEARCA and ADB for $32,525 (P1.51 million) is intend to help institutionalize systems for food and nutrition sufficiency into the country’s educational system, SEARCA said.
The project is also part of an agreement for the exchange of best practices with Indonesia through the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Tropical Biology (BIOTROP), the research group added.
The initial six pilot sites are all schools in Laguna near SEARCA’s headquarters, and include Cabuyao Central School, Pedro Guevarra Memorial National High School, Labuin Elementary School, Crisanto Guysayko Memorial Elementary School, Mayjayjay Elementary School, and San Andres Elementary School.
At a memorandum of agreement signing ceremony, SEARCA Director Gil Saguiguit Jr. said school gardens help promote environmental protection, provide food for the community, and teach youth valuable agriculture skills.
“School gardens serve as an alternative source of food and income for rural families to address the looming problems of rural poverty and hunger, which prevent access of many school children to quality education,” Saguiguit said.
One feature of the mini-farming sites is a small, 20-square meter greenhouse that serves as a seed nursery.
The greenhouse also helps in water conservation, using its own rainwater collection system to supply irrigation for the gardens.
In Phase 1 of the project, a of 600-square meter garden was put up in the high school level and 82 to 1,800 square meters of gardens in the elementary level.
Phase 1 (preliminary stage) of the project had a total fund of $17,240 while Phase 2 (establishment of school and home gardens) and 3 (value adding), $17,285. SEARCA has allocated a total of $22,525 and ADB, $12,000 for the project.
SEARCA is also pushing for the inclusion of lessons from the garden program into the basic education curriculum of the Department of Education (DepEd).
The group said that preparation of lesson plans for Grades 4 and 7 is now in its final stages, including a teacher’s manual to be piloted under the project up to December of this year. The plan, SEARCA explained, is to integrate lessons on nutrition, organic agriculture, and climate change concepts into DepEd’s Science, Math, English, Home Economics, and Technology and Livelihood Entrepreneurship curricula.
The food produced by the gardens will also help in the feeding programs for malnourished children in the six pilot sites, SEARCA said.
One key objective of the program is to widen the variety of available food as children’s source of nutrition. Through training, it raises skills of both students and teachers on food production and nutrition. It creates food savings and additional income to families, SEARCA said.
The SEARCA program actually aligns well with DepEd’s “Gulayan sa Paaralan” advocacy, according to Laguna schools superintendent Josilyn Solana, who also pointed out that families can reduce or stop dependency on school feeding programs as they learn to tend their own home gardens.
University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) chancellor Fernando Sanchez Jr. said Filipinos, through this partnership with SEARCA, will benefit from UPLB’s technical training on edible landscaping, nutrition, and organic agriculture.
The climate smart garden concept is also being integrated into farming-nutrition programs of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Interior and Local Government.
“It will harmonize with other government programs related to food and nutrition self-sufficiency,” said SEARCA.
DepEd is being urged by SEARCA to source funds to improve basic equipment for proper data collection.
The program likewise has links to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) flagship National Greening Program and the related Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change and Solid Waste Management programs, according to SEARCA.