Fifty-eight “lighthouse” schools have been put up in Region 4A by the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) which teaches K-12 pupils gardening as a reliable solution to malnutrition that can be prevalent among schoolchildren.
The IIRR has proven that the lighthouse schools in its Gardening and Nutrition Education with School-based Supplementary Feeding (GARNESUPP) is a viable way to source food right from one’s garden.
It made these gardens the source of food for its feeding program for children in public schools in Region 4A or CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon).
Likewise, the gardens enlighten pupils and parents on nutrition education.
The program takes inspiration from Cornell University’s International Nutrition program. It uses nutrition education among children or parents as tool in mitigating malnutrition.
“Improved nutrition education has been one of the key factors to prevent 12,000 deaths a year worldwide,” according to the United Nations Millennium Campaign.
When one looks at the list of vegetables that IIRR teaches the schoolchildren to plant, he may doubt whether this battle for capturing pupils’ mind for agriculture can be won.
The vegetables are amaranth (kulitis), long-fruited jute (saluyot), Philippine spinach (talinum), horseradish (malunggay), rice bean (tapilan), cowpea (paayap), lima bean (patani), hyacinth bean (batao), ash/white gourd (kundol), pigeonpea (kadios), wiged bean (sigarilyas), and okra.
Thanks to IIRR farm experts as Dr. Julian Gonsalves, senior program advisor.
“We’re interested in influencing their thinking. We have a very powerful device to influence young people on basic environmental natural resource concepts. By growing indigenous vegetables through Bio-intensive gardening (BIG), you’re actually conserving our indigenous varieties for future use,” said Gonsalves.
The apparently more important role of this GARNESSUP lighthouse schools is the nourishment of children in public schools.
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% to 4.2% in a group of children with 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 6 months reached P8,851 and benefited 146 schoolchildren.
Schools studied were the Felipe Calderon Elem. School in Tanza, Cavite and the Gen. Aloha Elem 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 4 and below were found undernourished under the MDG Philippine Progress Report 2010.
In 2013, a DOST-FNRI survey showed the number of underweight children age 5-10 years totalled 29%, children with stunting (low height for age), 29.9%, and those affected by wasting (low weight for height), 8.6%.
“These statistics are alarming and are very more disturbing when viewed at the household level,” said the IIRR.
BIG is a cost-saving, viable farming system for any poor community since it practically uses no expensive chemical fertilizer inputs, according to Emilita Monville Oro, IIRR country director.
The plots are dug deep—a foot deep– to allow root system of plants to reach nutrients and moisture under the soil. It makes room for water to be trapped under the soil –useful in both drought and flooding.
It conserves water. Deep dug beds loosen the soil and allow organic matter to thrive along with earthworms and beneficial bacteria.
“This is a living soil and gets better every year provided you don’t let it dry up and compact again in summer,” according to an IIRR primer.
Planting legumes (cowpea, rice bean) in deep dug plots keeps microbes alive, soil temperature low. It prevents weed growth.
In BIG, Kakawate trees are planted around the garden as perimeter wall and wind-breakers.
“Leaves of these nitrogen fixing trees (Kakawate) serve as source of green fertilizer. If trees are not planted on all four sides of the plot, we don’t have their cooling effects. The wind tends to dry the soil,” said IIRR.
Green leaves are used as fertilizer for the plots—enabling carbon storage unlike chemical fertilizers that contribute to greenhouse gas emission.
It relies on natural fertilizers such as decomposing stems and leaves from leftover harvested plants. The produce is rendered safe and free from pesticide residues.
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. Crop museums serve as living gene banks,” 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 are drought tolerant. These are not bought from seed companies; planting them is the best way to conserve them.
When these are lost, it is the poor who spends 50% of their earnings for food alone, who suffer the most. 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 planting materials. Mother plants are preserved there.
“School gardens are a repository for our vanishing genetic resources heritage the same way as a museum helps conserve valuable artifacts.”
Crop museums of IIRR require at least 200 square meters, should receive at least 6 hours of sunlight with good water and drainage system. Accession numbers are provided by the supervising teacher for plant entries.
Propagation using cuttings are done in the museum. Only seeds from healthy plants are harvested and distributed. Seeds should be dried properly for 3-4 hours in 4-5 days, avoiding midday scorching heat as extreme heat can kill the seed.
Crop museums are also responsible to train teachers.
Seed exchanges are facilitated between schools and other institutions in order to store and preserve more plant species.
The GARNESSUP lighthouse gardens are used too as tool for teaching culinary arts and Filipino food and crop culture.
GARNESSUP is from planting to feeding. It has developed recipes relished by many – kids and adults, CALABARZON natives or guests alike.
The recipes using these indigenous vegetables are surprisingly delicious.
The list on their menu includes Maca-kulitis soup, Spaghetting with malunggabi balls, Ginatan kadyos, Monggo Congee, Kamote Buchi Surprise, Kamote Palitaw, Monggo BananaBalls, Kadpilan arroz caldo con, Arroz lamang ugat con kulitis, Tahong with cassava and malunggay, Misua, patola, and kulitis, squash siomai, Muskadsilog, andGisadong Talinum at Galunggong.
With its success in raising public schoolchildren’s nutritional status, IIRR recommends the following:
· Nutrition education among children can be delivered through the classroom teaching approach; however, this should be conducted in an intensive and attractive manner in order to capture the interest of children.
· The quality of teaching efforts needs to be improved via training support if this delivery model is to be scaled-up.
· The regular conduct of nutrition education among parents during PTA (Parent Teacher Association) meetings and other appropriate opportunities should be given due attention. Parents play a significant role in the improvement of the children’s nutritional status. (Growth Publishing for IIRR)