The urban farming practice in schools boosts learning and engagement, and creates awareness among students about wellbeing and green issues. The successful implementation of the program at educational institutions has garnered the support of Local Self Government Departments, Urban Local Governments and Department of Education. Also, the intervention with Department of Education has resulted in introduction of a new policy called “General Education Protection Mission, 2017”, which makes agriculture practice mandatory in all educational institutions in the state, utilizing the fund of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).
To support the livelihood of the local community is one of the long term goals of urban agriculture program. Beginning with a school activity may seem like an insignificant step, but the goals of these activities are far reaching and part of a national effort to create healthier food systems.
Locally grown and healthy food served in school cafeterias, and thus improve their health.
To include urban agriculture program in the school curriculum.
To reduce Non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) among school students, by promoting physical activity through urban agriculture practice in the school campus.
To provide health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting small and medium-sized local and regional farmers.
To inculcate a sense of responsibility of natural biodiversity and its conservation, especially herbal plants.
The sustainable agriculture practice in schools can help achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).It supports the local food systems by producing high quality organic vegetables in schools, and linking it with local markets.
By adopting urban agriculture, the present and future generations will be able to feed a growing population. The fact that farming practice promotes the livelihood of small and medium-sized local and regional farmers, starting from the school farms makes it an effective response to the SDGs/2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The project will contribute in terms of developing sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices at the state level to increase productivity and production. Sustainable agriculture has a great potential to revitalize the landscape, deliver inclusive growth to countries and drive positive change right across the 2030 Agenda.
The involvement of various government institutions, schools and farming communities have made this program sustainable. Different institutions in the network have its own role in mobilizing resources, proper implementation of the program and monitoring and evaluation of the program.
Institutions who were responsible for implementing the programs are The Local Self Government Departments, Urban Local Governments, Department of Education, and the selected schools in three states where ESAF is engaged are the major stakeholders of the program.
Technical partners were Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Kerala Agriculture University (KAU), Krishi Bhavan, Biological Research Innovation Centre and Solutions.
Schools were selected based on the available space, water and fence etc. In order to facilitate the garden initiation, a start-up kit was provided with a manual with guidelines, vegetable seeds and other requirements like sample bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and equipment like hand sprayers.
All the vegetables provided are of the local varieties. During selection of vegetables, leafy varieties were given priority, considering the nutritional requirements of the children and the existing menu. The average size of the garden is 3 - 4 cents (one cent is 40 sq. meters). Schools that do not have space have taken up their terrace for farming activities.
The program is being monitored by the “Urban Farming Club” students of respective schools, inducted by the expert panel of ESAF. The group consists of students, who voluntarily agreed to promote the concept of urban agriculture amongst their peer group. Apart from that, a teacher from each school was given the responsibility to supervise and plan the activities of the club. ESAF provided technical support to Department of Education for implementing urban agriculture program in schools.
Changes in student dietary behaviours related to fruit and vegetable consumption are most relevant to organic farming since most programs incorporate local produce. Also pertinent, are changes students make related to healthy lifestyles and school meal participation and gains in knowledge and attitudes about local foods and nutrition. The farming practice has resulted in students eating more fruits and vegetables per day in the cafeteria, classroom, or at home, making positive lifestyle changes, as well as improving knowledge and attitudes about healthy eating and sustainable agriculture.
School Mid-Day Meal Participation
In 2018, the teachers noted a 40% increase in the number students participating in the school meal, subsequent to organic farming practice in the school yard.
The project had seen a marked improvement in the lifestyle of students beyond diet. The involvement in the organic farming practice has created a sense of understanding among students about the side effects of junk foods consumption. As a result, the number of students eating junk foods has been reduced to 20%, as against 30% from last year.
Business and marketing
In some schools, students sold their fresh organic produce which was sold like hot cakes. They could even negotiate with the buyers on why the buyers have to buy despite it being priced slightly higher than the market price. The children were entrusted with the book keeping and utilize the money they earned for the expansion of their garden. In the process, they could learn to make the decisions and decide upon how they want to develop their garden further.
Student Knowledge and Attitudes
The opinion of teachers revealed the impacts of urban agriculture educational activities conducted either in the class room or outside of it, on topics including nutrition and health, local foods and agriculture, and environment and ecosystems.
The support of the Local Self Government Departments, Urban Local Governments and Department of Education were quite crucial in implementing the school farming practice at all three states. Also, the fund allocated by these departments subsequent to policy level changes, reduced financial constraints attached to it. All the institutions in the network have its own role in mobilizing resources, proper implementation and monitoring, which makes the program sustainable.
Moreover, the contribution of school teachers undeniably is one of the other enabling factors behind the success of urban farming practice in schools. The role of Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in the whole process cannot be written off, as they contribute heavily in getting the support of parents through awareness sessions. Because initially, the parents were a bit hesitant towards farming practice in schools, as they were anxious about whether it will affect their children’s studies or not.
In many places, water, not land, is the limiting factor for production. The scarcity of water has badly affected the farming practice at certain areas in the piloting phase. However, the intervention by the Local Self Government Department to initiate Rain water harvesting system in all three states has made a huge impact thereafter, in terms of preserving water resources required for the program. We also roped in the services of the state water authority to supply water as per the requirement of the respective schools.
In Kerala, the Department of Education, Thrissur has endorsed the urban agriculture program piloted in schools in one assembly constituency. As a result of policy level intervention, the project is now included in General Education Protection Mission Project of Government of Kerala, and is being implemented in 49 schools. The financial requirements of the program were managed through the budget allocated by the Local Self Government Department and Urban Local Government.
Also, we have been asked by the Municipality of Malappuram, Kerala to do an assessment of schools and kindergartens in the district to initiate urban agriculture program. After assessment, we have shortlisted 10 schools and 8 kindergartens for which the financial commitment and resource distribution will be done by the municipality. ESAF was empanelled as the implementation and monitoring agency and the budget will be allocated by the municipality to run the program.
In Karnataka, the program was piloted at 2 schools. The success of the program had prompted the Department of Education, Bangalore City to get into a MoU with ESAF to identify potential schools in order to scale up the program.
In Assam, the local farmers had given 1.5 acres of land to school students in Majuli district to cultivate vegetables. Out of which, half acre is cultivated by teachers and students and the rest by their parents. The entire resources were mobilized from within the community including; seeds and fertilizers.
Urban agriculture will play a huge role in addressing the planet’s future needs- whether on food production, health or the preservation of the environment. Last year the United Nations adopted its post 2015 agenda, setting out 17 Sustainable Development Goals to tackle contemporary global challenges by 2030. The goals span the whole range of policy areas, from rural poverty to global hunger, climate resilience, and population growth. Nine of them are directly or indirectly connected with farming, conferring a special multi-dimensional status to agriculture.
Also, two indicators under SDG Target 2.1, aimed at, by 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and peoples in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round. The urban agriculture project in schools is a small step towards achieving SDG Target 2, and we truly believe that this model could transform the global agricultural system in order to adjust to the modern needs and feed the world.