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SEARCA spearheads back-to-back events on school gardens and nutrition

Published on 16 April 2018 KC3 News

SEARCA Headquarters, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines— Recognizing the benefits of school gardens in improving nutrition, education, and economic well-being of school children and their families, as seen in successful models and initiatives around the world, SEARCA, in partnership with the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), the Department of Education (DepEd)-Division of Laguna, Philippines, and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), has organized the back-to-back International Conference on School Gardens and the Training of Trainers (ToT) on Scaling-up the School-Plus-Home Gardens Model in Southeast Asia. These events will take place here on 16-18 April 2018 and 18-21 April 2018, respectively. Other partners include the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and Bioversity International, while the Food Security Center of the Hohenheim University of Germany provides counterpart funding for the back-to-back events. 

The international conference has the theme "Leveraging the Multi-functionality of School Gardens." It aims to provide a venue for sharing the different models of school gardens within and outside the Southeast Asian (SEA) region, with emphasis on lessons, impacts, commonalities, strengths, diversity in methodologies, and issues and challenges. It seeks to foster a better understanding of how school gardens in different settings can help improve nutrition, education, and economic well-being of children, their families, and the communities they live in.

Sessions will include global and regional perspectives on the multi-functionality of school gardens, a panel discussion on these gardens' multiple dimensions, sharing of country experiences in the implementation of school gardens, and another panel on scaling up strategies and sustainability.

The ToT, on the other hand, aims to discuss options for scaling up viable school garden models. It will be a platform for exchanging knowledge, experiences, and success stories that aim to strengthen implementation of similar School-plus-home Garden Projects (S+HGP) currently undertaken or to be initiated in member states of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO).

The ToT will start with a sharing among participants of school and home gardens related initiatives in SEA, followed by a learning tour of school-plus-home garden sites. Modules will also cover the different pillars of school-plus-home gardens: for food and nutrition, and for education. The ToT will also discuss the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agrobiodiversity, and Organic Agriculture in the region through school gardens, strengthening local institutional support and capacity building, information dissemination and networking, and establishing and sustaining school gardens.

The opening ceremony of the International Conference will be led by the SEARCA Director, Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr. The keynote address will be given by the Secretary of the Department of Education in the Philippines, Dr. Leonor M. Briones, and a message will be given by the Director of the SEAMEO Secretariat (SEAMES), Dr. Gatot Hari Priowirjanto. A keynote message on the second day will be from the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the Philippines, Mr. Emmanuel F. Piñol.

Resource persons will come from FAO, Bioversity International, SEAMEO centers, Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Plant Genetic Resources Center in Sri Lanka, IIRR, Nutrition Center of the Philippines, UPLB, DepEd, DA, Department of Health, and the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Pila, Laguna, Philippines.

Participants include representatives from partner organizations, school administrators and teachers from DepEd, ministries of education across SEA, government agencies, and representatives from LGUs.

Many school children suffer from various forms of malnutrition. Results of research in developing countries and countries in transition showed the prevalence of stunting among schools across all regions and the prominence of underweight and thinness in populations from Southeast Asia and Africa. In a World Bank study published in 2006, stunting was shown to have serious economic consequences, estimating that a "1% loss in adult height due to childhood stunting is associated with a 1.4 percent loss in economic productivity." Micronutrient deficiencies are also of special concern to children due to their being in a growth and development stage.

Schools are recognized as excellent setting for promoting lifelong healthy eating and improving long-term, sustainable nutrition security. They play a vital role in the effort to overcome malnutrition and hunger among children, and school gardens are simple yet effective ways of improving nutrition and education of children and their families. FAO defines school garden as "an area of land within the school grounds or nearby" with two common features: schoolchildren actively helping parents and other interested members of the community in establishing and maintaining the garden, and use of gardens for learning, recreation and source of food.

School gardening is one of the nutrition intervention strategies, which helps provide the foundation and skills for practices that contribute to present and future health and nutrition of school children. It is viewed as a viable, sustainable, comprehensive, and replicable approach as component of nutrition education. (Carmen Nyhria G. Rogel)