Vegetables Go to School: Improving nutrition through agricultural diversification

Students in Bhutan with a freshly picked crop of nutritious leafy vegetables. Photo by Choki Gyeltshen

Students in Bhutan with a freshly picked crop of nutritious leafy vegetables. Photo by Choki Gyeltshen

Vegetables Go to School addresses 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’s overall goal is to contribute to improved nutritional security in the target countries through school vegetable gardens linked to other school-based health, nutrition and environmental initiatives with close participation of local communities. It builds on earlier work of AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) on school vegetable gardens in the Philippines and Indonesia and utilizes garden plot designs that incorporate highly nutritious traditional vegetables.

Why grow vegetable gardens in schools?

School 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 programs in developing countries and describes success stories as well as failures. School gardens have to be conceptualized 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 programs 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 programs 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).

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 programs, the evidence that these programs contribute to nutritional, educational and economic outcomes is not well documented and largely anecdotal. It is important to learn from these programs in a more structured manner and collect data to improve their efficacy and quantify outcomes.




Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Indonesia, Philippines
AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center
Scientist: Ray-Yu Yang, Nutritionist
Scientist: Greg Luther, Technology Dissemination
Outreach: Maureen Mecozzi, Head, Communications and Information
Monitoring and Evaluation: Pepijn Schreinemachers, Agricultural Economist

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg, Germany
Project Team Leader: Prof. Dr. Axel Drescher, Physical Geography
Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources
Project Team Leader: Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Glaser, Physical Geography
Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources
Virtual Research Environment, Data Management: Dr. Steffen Vogt
Physical Geography, Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources
Software Developer: Mr. Mark Hoschek, Physical Geography
Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources

Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland
Project Team Leader: Prof. Dr. Guéladio Cissé, Ecosystem Health Sciences Unit (EHS), Department of Epidemiology and Public Health
Research Fellow and PhD Candidate: Séverine Erismann, Swiss TPH/AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center
PhD Candidate: Akina Shrestha (Nepal), Dhulikhel Hospital – Kathmandu University Hospital, Dulikhel, Nepal
MSc Student: Ramona Herz (Switzerland), Institution of Health Science (IRSS)
Ougadougou, Burkina Faso

Start date: March 2013


  • Media reports:

Tanzania kunufaika na mradi wa Mbogamboga mashuleni
(Tanzania to benefit from the project Vegetables Go to School)
Dewiji Blog, 29 November 2013

International Year of Family Farming: Teaching Gardens Create Healthier, More Informed Students
Food Tank, 1 November 2013

Learning to grow, growing to learn
Fresh, the AVRDC Newsletter, 11 September 2013

School gardens set to thrive in South Asia
Fresh, the AVRDC Newsletter, 10 June 2013

The new golden rule: grow vegetables at school
Fresh, the AVRDC Newsletter, 14 September 2012

Vegetables Go to School: AVRDC receives grant to develop school vegetable gardens