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Healthy learning

Healthy Learning has been supporting children to use school-owned land to grow crops (© VVOB Healthy Learning programme)
Healthy Learning has been supporting children to use school-owned land to grow crops
© VVOB Healthy Learning programme

Twelve year old Kennedy Mwangi is a happy boy. Last year he helped to grow food for his fellow pupils at Naromoru Primary School, planting his class garden with kales, tomatoes, spinach, African nightshade, onions and cabbages, and tending the school's one acre farm. In 2010, the school pupils harvested 14 bags of maize and two bags of beans, and were able to donate surplus food to orphaned classmates, to share at home with their relatives. Thanks to the home-grown lunches, which serve as an incentive against truancy and dropouts, enrolment at Naromoru has risen from around 615 pupils to 820 in 2011.

Located on arid and rocky land in the Maasai area of Kaijado, Naromoru Primary School is one of 30 schools across eight arid and semi-arid districts of Kenya benefiting from the Healthy Learning Programme. Undertaken by Kenya's Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB), the programme has been supporting children and their communities to use school-owned land to grow crops and keep small livestock.

Launched in 2008, Healthy Learning encourages school communities to grow food and practise agroforestry and water conservation. Through these initiatives, the programme hopes to boost nutrition among school children and their communities and conserve the environment, while primarily aiming to equip pupils with life skills, and enable them to earn a living after school. As of 2010, a total of 16,794 pupils were engaged with Healthy Learning in eight districts, with the number continually rising through increased school enrolment.

Meeting local challenges

Schools are encouraged to replace flowerbeds outside classrooms with gardens (© VVOB Healthy Learning programme)
Schools are encouraged to replace flowerbeds outside classrooms with gardens
© VVOB Healthy Learning programme

Naromoru headteacher, Joyce Sankok, says that establishing a garden and farm at the school was not easy since the area is so rocky. She has had to rely on local building contractors to provide soil, excavated from their building sites. With the soil levelled, the school bought manure from neighbours and when rains came, in mid-2010, planting began. The results impressed everyone.

However, with drought a constant problem, Ministry of Education Quality Assurance and Standards Officer, Clement Osano, says that water harvesting has become a major element of the project, coupled with growing drought-tolerant crops like African nightshade. Water harvesting tanks have been placed in schools, and pupils are taught to wash their hands using 'leaky tins' - suspended buckets placed next to kitchen gardens, so that all the 'run off' benefits the plants and none is wasted.

At Naromoru, the school also has its own nurseries, where pupils plant vegetable seedlings and trees, both of which now flourish in the school compound after transplanting from the nursery. "Obtaining seeds for the tree nurseries has not been difficult," says Sankok. "Pupils collect seeds at home and bring them to school. Later we allocate duties for watering until they sprout and become seedlings."

Working with the community

Implemented jointly with the Ministry of Education and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), schools are given support to grow crops suitable for their area and to practise rabbit and poultry keeping, supplying their produce directly to the school kitchen. "The project takes a participatory approach, where pupils, teachers and parents all take part in running the school agriculture programmes. These are also replicated at home by pupils and the wider community," says Vivian Nereah, Healthy Learning information and communication officer.

Healthy Learning aims to boost food security, improve nutrition and conserve the environment (© VVOB Healthy Learning programme)
Healthy Learning aims to boost food security, improve nutrition and conserve the environment
© VVOB Healthy Learning programme

In particularly arid regions, school compounds are harvested for hay, which is packed and stored for sale to neighbouring communities to use in times of drought. "We have seen pupils keeping chickens and rabbits in their homes, something that the majority of our beneficiaries, being mainly pastoralists, do not normally do," says programme officer Wangari Mathenge. "Encouraging communities like the Maasai to accept chicken or rabbit as a source of meat is not easy: to this community, chickens are just birds and adult men are not comfortable eating or keeping them," adds Vivian Nereah.

However, with the project set to run until 2013, more communities around Healthy Learning schools will gain experience with water conservation, tree planting, growing crops and keeping small animals, so boosting food security and uplifting nutrition while also conserving the environment.

Written by: Maina Waruru

Date published: March 2011

 

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