By Chetana Malla, Rural Service Provider and Principal, Shree Pashupati Basic School, Mugu
My name is Chetana Malla Shahi and I am coordinating the school nutrition garden intervention in the Ema village in Mugu district in the rural mid-west of Nepal. The area is surrounded by a high mountain range, which makes it a very remote area and limits peoples’ access to diversified food.
Almost two years ago, we conducted baseline study in the village. The study showed:
most inhabitants are engaged in mountain farming with low diversity of crops.
main cultivations are starchy crops, beans/peas and vitamin A rich vegetables.
little access to animal protein, fruits and nuts.
This situation motivated me to organize several activities to implement the micro-intervention on school nutrition education in Shree Pashupati Basic School, where I am a teacher myself, and in adjoining villages from where students come to the school. I started this initiative thinking that schools can be an important and appropriate platform to impart the knowledge and skills of agriculture and nutrition.
At first, I discussed and interacted with teachers, students, guardians, school management team and other concerned stakeholders about my idea. I raised awareness about the importance of nutrition to human health and nutritive value of foods. I arranged to provide theoretical and practical knowledge and skills about on nursery establishment and nutritious vegetables and fruit cultivation to students as well as their guardians. The school established diversified nutrition garden which now serves the produces in school day meal.
The school garden produce include nutritious vegetables like carrot, radish, tomato, broad leaf mustard, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin, etc. as well as fruits such as apple and peach.
Changes in diet and discouragement of imported junk foods in the school has been now appreciated in the district. The school also included nutrition sensitive agriculture in their curricula and started to teach their students about it on a regular basis (every first and last Friday of a month).
Key messages of school nutrition education
Demonstration of school nutrition garden works as precursor to prioritize agriculture and nutrition in schools
It influences inclusion of local agricultural products in 'school day meal'
It facilitates diversified production and consumption at household level
Besides, the guardian households (of which 67% are women participants) were provided agricultural inputs like seeds, seedlings from our established nursery. They also obtained other cultivation equipment (e.g., drip irrigation) to get support in starting their own household kitchen garden. After a heavy drought in 2016 farmers were very encouraged to get engaged in the intervention. We also distributed chicken; so, the women could produce and consume eggs and meat. There was some resistance, since it is not the custom to eat eggs or chicken in that area, but some have started and now, there is demand for more chicken.
I convinced the (then) District Agriculture Development Office, District Health Office and local NGOs to collaborate with us and to promote the message of nutrition value of agriculture, hygiene and sanitation in the district on monthly basis. The guardian households received additional technical guidance and inputs from them.
After some time, there appeared gradual changes in food habit of people. The community understands and appreciates the value of better-quality meals for the students. The noodles and biscuits are being replaced by healthy local food items. The school became a learning centre and a role model in terms of promoting nutrition sensitive agriculture via schools.
Having seen our example, the (then) District Education Office up-scaled the school nutrition education in other schools of the district: nutrition garden has been scaled up and established in 11 schools in Mugu now; the DEO has also expressed its commitment to replicate the idea in other schools as well.
’One school, one nutrition garden' and ‘one house, one kitchen garden’ campaigns are initiated in the district now.
Similarly, at household level, we see that the technical guidance and inputs gradually changed the consumption and production pattern of the families. They include more nutrient rich vegetables and fruits in their daily food. The families with gardens consume some of the produce and sell the rest. Drip irrigation jointly supported by government and NGO have also helped in establishing 30 kitchen gardens already in the village.
Some have even switched to growing vegetables on land where they used to grow tobacco. Earlier, women used to cultivate tobacco for their own usage, but through our awareness raising, they understood its negative effect on their health. This motivated them to grow vegetables; as described also by Mrs. Tara Khadka, the chairperson of the school nutrition garden in Ema village (below.)
''Earlier we used the leisure time after household chore in smoking tobacco. We used to plant tobacco in our land; only the green in our land was tobacco. Even young girls consume it. Still many people consume it. After intervention of nutrition garden in our school, we knew about its health hazard; we were educated about health benefits of vegetable crops and its consumption; we knew about including vegetables, green leafy vegetables, fruits, meat, egg, pulse in our daily diet. We have now started cultivating vegetables for household consumption; additional vegetables are sold in the local market.''
Special thank you to Ms. Chetana Malla for contributing this story. She can be reached at +9779758900230 or firstname.lastname@example.org