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

Can school vegetable gardens improve the diets and health of children in developing countries? A new project to establish pilot school gardens in Asia and Africa may provide the answer.

AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center is pleased to announce it has received a CHF 3,750,000 grant from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for phase 1 of “Vegetables Go to School: Improving Nutrition by Agricultural Diversification,” a project to address malnutrition, particularly among children, by establishing comprehensive school vegetable garden programs in two countries in Africa and two countries 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.

“Schools are targeted as an entry point because they offer an ideal setting to familiarize children with health-promoting values and habits,” said Dr. Dyno Keatinge, AVRDC Director General. “By integrating vegetable gardens with other school-based health, nutrition, sanitation and environmental initiatives, important messages can be reinforced to promote long-term behavior change among students, their families and communities.”

“Vegetables Go to School” will be implemented in Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Bhutan and Nepal. Phase 1 extends through 2015; activities planned with national partners from the agriculture, health and education sectors include the establishment of pilot school gardens; development of healthy diet garden kits containing 10 to 15 nutrient-dense vegetables adapted to local climates and tastes; production guidelines; recipe development; and data collection.

Representatives from Indonesia and the Philippines, which already have strong school garden programs, will be invited to participate in project workshops and activities to share knowledge and experiences.

To ensure the school garden initiative has broad national support, the project will bring together high-level representatives of the agriculture, health and education sectors in the participating countries to raise awareness of the benefits of linking nutrition-related activities.

A web-based interactive platform where students, teachers, school administrators and project partners can report health and harvest data, post photos and maps, and share garden methods and techniques is being developed by project partners at the University of Freiburg, Germany and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland.

The project was prompted in part by the lack of evidence on the nutritional efficacy and effectiveness of school vegetable gardens for improving the diets and health of school children in developing countries. The hypothesis that the nutritional security of school children will be improved in the target countries through school vegetable gardens linked with other school-based health, nutrition and environmental initiatives will be tested by determining if children at participating schools have greater awareness about nutrition, eat a more balanced and diverse diet, and have better nutritional outcomes than children at schools without school vegetable gardens.

By the end of phase 1, it is estimated that in each participating country 6,000 school children will benefit from project activities, as they will have received practical knowledge about the importance of consuming a diverse, balanced and nutritious diet, and will know how to grow and prepare healthy vegetables.

Proposed activities for phase 2 include scaling-out school garden initiatives to reach 120,000 children in each country. Phase 3 would cover data analysis and dissemination.