Scientific vegetable garden in schools for behavioral change and healthy citizens in Nepal
Dr. Dhruba Raj Bhattarai
Scientist (Vegetable Science)
Horticulture Research Division, Nepal Agricultural Research Council
Knowledge about nutrition by growing and learning where nutrition comes from, students are more aware of healthy eating and nutrition. Students can study the variety of products that come from different plants and what plants grow easily in their local environment. By engaging in scientific gardening activities, the students learn about how human actions can affect the environment both in a positive and negative manner. A scientific vegetable garden is a “living lab” that can provide a place for the children to connect with the natural world and the true source of nutrition. We can teach them valuable gardening concepts and skills that integrate with several subjects, such as science, health, physical education and social studies. Special idea makes the school garden more fun, and offer a lot of opportunities for creative and critical thinking.
Key words: malnutrition, plant nutrition, crop rotation, harvesting, student
The nutritional importance of vegetables in Nepal was not appreciated and realized by majority of the population living in the rural areas of the country which has resulted in widespread malnutrition in the remote areas leading to many physical maladies, diseases and disabilities in people of all ages. To improve the nutritional status of people various interventions are being undertaken in Nepal. Ministry of Health has been implementing micronutrient specific supplementation related interventions in the past. Although these programs have produced visible results but rate of malnutrition reduction is still slow to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDI) because of more focused supplementation and treatment based programs. Recognizing malnutrition as a multidimensional issue which demands involvement of different sectors including health, agriculture and education in synergistic ways, government of Nepal has developed Multi-sectoral Nutrition Planning Framework.
Food diversity is associated with better nutritional status of population in developing countries and school gardens have been found very effective to increase consumption of balanced diets, nutritional education and the development of livelihood skills in many countries (FAO 2010). In Nepal, there are 34,782 schools and a total of 7,665,448 students are enrolled in the schools. About 85% of the students study in public schools and such schools are mostly located in rural areas where malnutrition is more severe. So, as in many other countries public schools in Nepal could be the effective entry point for changing the diet intake behavior of the children to improve the nutritional status. In scattered manner, a number of school and community based activities have been initiated by government and non-government sectors in health & sanitation, agriculture and environment sectors in Nepal. However, these initiatives are scattered and are focusing on development aspects. As a result, empirical evidences on effectiveness of school based nutritional interventions are not available for future planning. Therefore, the scientific school vegetable garden concept should be implemented as learning tool for its contribution to knowledge, behavioral change and nutritious consumption. With increased awareness and knowledge on nutrition the attitude of children will be changed towards eating nutritional vegetables and they will promote production and consumption of diverse type of nutrient dense vegetables in their families and communities along with good health practices. The final outcome will be the improvement of the nutritional status of school children including their families.
How to make a scientific school vegetable garden?
First of all wire fencing or edge planting can be made in all four sides of the area to protect school garden from the animals. Then land should be well leveled and proper drainage should be made to avoid water stagnation. Sunlight should be present for maximum period during day hours in the area selected for school vegetable garden. Some of the fruit plants like lemon, papaya, banana etc. should be planted at such a place so that they will not make their shade on the other crops. Suitable path should also be made in the school garden to facilitate movement of the students. The irrigation system should be prepared in such a way that we can irrigate all the beds easily. There should also be pit in the corner for making compost from the waste material of the school garden. There should be a small polyhouse for growing nursery. We should observe each bed of the school garden to find out the incidence of insect pest and diseases. Use of poisonous insecticides or fungicides should be avoided in the school garden. Timely operations like weeding, irrigation, hoeing and harvesting should be done as required by the crops. Proper care should be taken that the school children may not damage the crop.
Land selection: if there is a waste land adjacent to school, it can be used for the school vegetable garden. Though the question of selection of land does not arise because whatever land is available, can be used. However, some points should be considered at the time of selection of land for school garden. If the soil is too heavy or too sandy, it can be improved by adding sufficient amount of compost. School garden should always be made behind the school so that students can also do practical there. Some time by the surrounding of school rain water stagnates in the area. Such area should be avoided for school garden or it can be used after making a good drainage.
Layout of school vegetable garden: Scientific school vegetable garden is not for commercial purpose. Such gardens are primarily used for learning purpose as it can create awareness and interest among school children, teachers and parents on health, nutrition and nutrient rich vegetables. Before starting any work in the school vegetable garden, it is necessary to make proper layout according to the size of the land. There is no hard and fast rule about the shape and size of the individual plot in the school vegetable garden. However, considering the fact that the size of individual plot should be 3m X 1.5m with 1 m space between plots (fig 1). The tools that are easy to use for children should be provided for garden operations.
Selection of vegetables: While selecting vegetables for school garden, the interest of local community should be considered. In school garden such type of vegetables should be grown which are more nutritious and can be harvested in minimum time so that we can take maximum crops per unit area in less time. Vegetables should be grown according to season. Example, in winter pea, cauliflower, fenugreek, carrot, radish, turnip etc. and in summer; brinjal, tomato, bitter gourd, okra, etc. In addition to that some spice crops such as ginger, coriander, turmeric, chillies, garlic etc. should be cultivated in the garden according to the season (Table 2).