SCHOOL GARDENS IN NEPAL: Design, piloting, and scaling
Table of Contents:
The nutritional status of the Nepalese population, particularly in rural areas, remains poor. A nationwide survey showed that 36% of children under five years of age are stunted (i.e. have a low height for their age), 10% are wasted (i.e. have a low weight for their height) and 27% are underweight (Ministry of Health et al., 2016). The prevalence of anaemia among children is 35% while 41% of women age 15-49 are anaemic (ibid.). The government of Nepal has formulated various policies, plans and strategies to address the problem, including the National Nutrition Policy and Strategy (Government of Nepal, 2014) and the National School Health and Nutrition Strategy (Government of Nepal, 2006). Recognizing that malnutrition is a multidimensional issue that requires the involvement of various sectors including health, education, and agriculture in synergistic ways, the government of Nepal developed the Multisector Nutrition Plan (Government of Nepal, 2012).
School garden programmes fit well into this thinking because it is an intervention that involves education, health, and agriculture. In Nepal, the concept of school vegetable gardens has been implemented as a learning tool to generate knowledge, behaviour change and possibly increase the consumption of nutritious vegetables. The assumption is that an increase in the awareness and knowledge of healthy food such as vegetables, will incline children towards healthier eating habits. Furthermore, school gardens are also seen as a strategy to promote production and consumption of a diverse range of nutrient-dense vegetables in families and in communities. Along with good health practices, it can contribute to the improved nutritional status of schoolchildren and their families.
In the programme, nutritional education is considered as important as hands-on work in the school garden, though both are usually combined in the school garden activities. By engaging in school gardens, students learn about the variety of vegetables that can grow in their local environment. They can also learn the value of nutritious vegetables in their daily diet, the consequences of good and bad food habits on human health and the effect on the environment. A school vegetable garden is a ‘living lab’ that can provide a place for the children to connect with the natural world as a true source of food and nutrition. School gardening can also teach children about other important subjects that can be integrated: science, health, and social studies. Ultimately, school vegetable gardens can make learning more enjoyable for children and more effective by offering opportunities for creative and critical thinking.
The Nepal school garden programme started with the project Vegetables Go to School (VGtS), which was funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) through a grant to the World Vegetable Center. The intervention was jointly designed by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), the Ministry ofEducation, and the Ministry of Health and Population with technical support of the World Vegetable Center. Strengthening the collaboration between three ministries with the aim of improving child nutrition was an important aspect of the project. The actual implementation was led by NARC in close collaboration with the Ministry ofEducation.
The project piloted school gardens at ten schools per year over a three-year period in two districts in the mid-hills of Nepal. The pilot was combined with a research component to generate high-quality evidence for the impact of school gardens on nutritional outcomes. Key government people were engaged to promote the concept of school gardens and to share the research results. The school garden activities were promoted through national television and other national media. The project interacted with national policy makers, which helped to move the pilot to a programme that can be scaled nationwide.
The objective of this chapter is to provide details of how the Nepal school garden programme was designed, piloted in two districts, and subsequently scaled at a national level. The chapter is organized based on three major themes.
School garden design
Nepal is a mountainous country with much variation in agroecological conditions. In mountainous areas, suitable land for setting up a school garden is often limited as the terrain can be steep and rocky. Water availability is generally a constrained because it is often not technically possible to drill to the groundwater level while rainwater storage requires costly infrastructure. Furthermore, there are seasonal weather constraints as the winter may be too cold to grow vegetables in the open field, especially at higher altitudes. Another constraint is the damage by domestic animals and especially wild animals such as deer and monkeys, which can be a problem if the school is near a forested area. Although it is possible to grow vegetables in small areas, in containers, or make vertical gardens, these methods can be more costly and are generally more challenging to maintain than a field- based garden. School gardens may therefore not be a suitable intervention for all schools. In our project we therefore selected schools based on a minimum available area of 300 m2 for gardening and access to a source of water for irrigation. Another important consideration is the support and motivation of school principals and teachers, which is essential for successful implementation of the intervention.
School garden components
The intervention had three complementary components as described in the following. More details are provided in Bhattarai et al. (2016a) and (2016b).
First, a 23-week curriculum was designed which included the following topics: school garden establishment, garden design, soil testing, compost making, crop selection, nursery techniques, planting method, integrated nutrient management, integrated pest management, identification of natural enemies and pests of vegetables, seed saving, harvesting, vegetable cooking techniques, vegetable consumption, importance of vegetables in human nutrition, and personal hygiene for promoting vegetable intake among children of grades 6 and 7. The curriculum is publicly available (Bhattarai et al., 2016b).
Second, a school garden was established on the school grounds. The standard design had 10 raised planting beds of 3 m x 1.5 m with 1 m space in between (Figure 5.1). The space between the beds and fence was 1 m on three sides and 2 m in front where a water tank and compost pit were placed. Sufficient space between the planting beds is important to accommodate a group of children working in the garden. Some schools used bricks, wooden planks, or bamboo to create the raised beds and prevent the soil from washing off. Raised beds also provide better drainage and allow children to easier reach and observe the plants without stepping on them.
FIGURE 5.1 Example of the standard garden design with crop calendar.
The school gardens were fenced using steel wire or plants to protect the school garden from domestic animals (goats, cows, chickens) and wild animals (deer, monkeys). The land was well-levelled and proper drainage was installed to prevent water stagnating in the garden. The location of the garden was important as it should have direct sunlight and not be shaded. However, the planting of fruit trees like lemon, papaya and banana was encouraged as long as this did not shade the vegetable plots. A compost pit was created in a corner of the garden so that children would learn how to recycle green waste to create organic fertilizer. Low soil fertility was a serious constraint to garden production at most schools.
A standard cropping calendar was designed, separating between the winter and summer seasons. Each school was provided a small polyhouse nursery to raise seedlings, which helped to start vegetable production earlier in the year and increase the survival of young plants. Vegetables were selected by the project team based on local preferences, nutritional value and short growing periods so that they could be harvested more frequently. Table 5.1 shows the vegetables selected for the garden for each season. In addition, spice crops such as ginger, coriander, turmeric, chilies and garlic were planted around the garden. The project provided vegetable seed of good quality, along with the gardening tools and other basic equipment as required.
Teachers were instructed to inspect the garden regularly for insect pests and diseases and other agronomic problems. Teachers were told not to use pesticides in the school garden, but apply botanical pesticides such as extracted from neem leaves, garlic roots or chili pods. Proper crop rotations were an important part of the teaching curriculum: a legume crop would be followed by a leafy vegetable, followed by a fruit vegetable, and followed by a root vegetable.
TABLE 5.1 Standard cropping calendar used for the Nepal school gardens
Third, community involvement and promotional activities were developed to strengthen the involvement of parents and emphasize the lessons learned. There was a contest for the best managed school garden. Schoolchildren established a small vegetable garden at their home and were given small packets of seed for this purpose. They were also stimulated to share the lessons learned with their family members. Teachers visited the children’s homes to observe their home gardens. During the harvesting period parents and other community members were invited to the school and a harvesting event was organized. Harvested vegetables were distributed to the students for own consumption.
Training and follow-up
The project implementation started by first informing the local administrators of the Department of Education about the project and seeking their support. Subsequently, each selected school was visited to explain the project to the school principal and to identify a school garden focal teacher. The responsibility of this focal teacher was to implement garden activities as suggested by the project team, to provide security to the garden, allocate working time to different classes, support the data collection, organize promotional activities, facilitate parent visits and other related project activities. The visit was done jointly by a staff of the Department of Education and of the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC). A memorandum of understanding was signed between the project and the schools.
A one-time training was provided for two teachers per school. It was important to train two persons to reduce the risk of staff turnovers, which are common in rural areas. The training was conducted in one location in the study area and lasted two days. The project team would visit each school after the training to assist with the setup of the school garden. A technical staff of NARC made regular follow-up visits to provide assistance.
Pilots in Dolakha and Ramechhap districts
The above design was implemented in 10 schools per year for three subsequent years from 2014 to 2016. All schools were selected from Dolakha and Ramechhap Districts - two neighbouring districts in the mid-hills of Nepal. These districts were selected because they have high levels of malnutrition, yet are relatively easy to reach from Kathmandu, which facilitated the implementation of the project. The intervention targeted children 10-15 years old in grades 6 and 7 (Figures 5.2 and 5.3). The total budget per school was US$ 950, excluding the cost of teacher training and project management, which translates to about US$16 per child (Schreinemachers et al., 2017).
FIGURE 5.2 School gardening activities in Ramechhap district of Nepal. Source: Bhattarai et al. (2016b).
FIGURE 5.3 School gardening activities in Ramechhap district of Nepal.
Source: Bhattarai et al. (2016b).
The feedback from students and teachers was generally positive. Students engaged in hands-on gardening lessons, showed an increase in positive attitude towards content material and learning. Teachers believed that implementing these new learning styles were highly effective.
The project also generated quantitative data to test the hypothesis that school gardens linked to complementary teaching in gardening and nutrition and related promotional activities contributes to improvements in nutritional awareness, knowledge, perceptions, and eating behaviour of 10-15-year-old schoolchildren in Nepal. To do this, it used a cluster randomized controlled trial design (with schools as clusters). Data were collected at the start and at the end of the 2014 and 2015 school years from the project schools and a set of control schools. Further details are provided in Chapter 12 of this book, which compares the Nepal pilot to similar pilots conducted in Bhutan and Burkina Faso.
The study found a significant increase in children’s awareness about fruit and vegetables, their knowledge about agriculture, nutrition, and WASH, and their stated preferences for eating fruit and vegetables. However, the study did not find a significant effect on vegetable consumption. Results are described in Chapter 8 of this book.
Pilot in Sindhupalchok district
The lack of impact of school gardens on children’s vegetable consumption was confirmed by parallel studies for Bhutan and Burkina Faso. Two dominant explanations that emerged from discussions with stakeholders were that: (a) healthier food items such as fruit and vegetables were perhaps insufficiently available within children’s households, which prevented them from eating these, even if they wanted to; and (b) children were perhaps unable to make food choices independently as their mothers and fathers largely decided what they ate and the food behaviour of parents was perhaps insufficiently affected by the intervention. An ongoing pilot project implemented in 15 treatment schools in Sindhupalchok District is currently testing these hypotheses using an experimental design in which the school gardens are linked to a complementary home garden programme aimed at promoting household-level vegetable production and consumption. Results are expected in 2020.
In the project districts public schools are located at great distances because of the hilly terrain. Moreover, many of the schools have very poor or no road and communication connectivity, which complicated the project implementation. Another challenge was that school teachers were generally familiar with developmental projects, but lacked understanding of the added research component and the need to generate evidence, which was tackled by familiarizing school staff with the research approach. Since school gardening is a new concept in Nepal, suitable land for gardening was not always readily available. In most cases some barren land was available, but it required extensive improvements such as levelling, fencing, removal of stones or construction materials, and soil fertility improvement. Limited availability of water for garden irrigation was an important constraint in some cases.
Based on the experience of the project team, the following key lessons were learned regarding the implementation of school gardens in Nepal:
The project was implemented through a close collaboration between the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health and Population. Representative of these departments participated in a two-week training-of-trainers workshop at World Vegetable Center headquarters in Taiwan in August 2013, which helped to strengthen the country team. The team members were continuously involved in project implementation which ensured strong collaboration.
The fact that government departments were leading the project in addition to the multi-sectoral nature of school gardens was conceptually appealing and fitted with the government’s strategy to address malnutrition, ensured high visibility of the project, particularly within the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education.
Project activities were promoted though national television and other media and a policy brief was published (Bhattarai et al., 2017). At the end of the project, in May 2017, a policy workshop was organized to share experiences and research results with stakeholders including senior officers of the involved government departments, members of parliament, and the national planning commission.
The Nepal project team was subsequently invited to contribute to the preparation of guidelines for the Green School Program which was released by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology in 2018. The results and documented materials of this project have also been used effectively by the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology for developing new reading materials and other activities of the Green School Program in Nepal which has recently been initiated.
The Nepal school garden programme aims to address malnutrition through an innovative multi-sectoral approach involving the ministries of agriculture, health, and education. As such it serves as a model intervention that uses a holistic approach to create nutritional outcomes through agriculture and education. Careful design and piloting of the intervention was conducted and this provided an important foundation to scale up the programme.
Funding for this research was provided by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) under grant number 81017189 and the Drivers of Food Choice (DFC) Competitive Grants Program, which is funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and managed by the University of South Carolina, Arnold School of Public Health, United States.
Bhattarai, D.R., Subedi, G.D., Acharya, T.P., Schreinemachers, P, Yang, R.-y., Luther, G., Dhungana, U., Poudyal, K.P. and Kashichwa, N.K. (2016a) ‘Effect of school vegetable gardening on knowledge, preference and consumption of vegetables in Nepal’, International Journal of Horticulture 5, 1-7.
Bhattarai, D.R., Subedi, G.D., Kashichwa, N.K., Dhungana, U., Yang, R.Y., Schreinemachers, P., Mecozzi, M., Luther, G., Luoh, J.W., Palaniswamy, U., Holmer, R., Cisse, G. and Drescher, A. (2017) ‘Vegetables go to school NEPAL: School vegetable gardens: Linking nutrition, health and communities project documentation’, World Vegetable Center, Shanhua, Taiwan.
Bhattarai, D.R., Subedi, G.D. and Schreinemachers, P. (2016b) ‘School Vegetable Gardening: Concept, Curriculum & Action’, Government of Nepal, Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), Khumaltar, Lalitpur, Nepal.
Government of Nepal (2006) ‘National school health and nutrition strategy, Nepal', Government of Nepal, Ministry of Health and Population, Kathmandu.
Government of Nepal (2012) ‘Multisector Nutrition Plan for Accelerating the Reduction of Maternal and Child Under-nutrition in Nepal 2013-2017 (2023)’, Government of Nepal, National Planning Commission, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Government of Nepal (2014) ‘National Nutrition Policy and Strategy’, Government of Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Ministry of Health, New ERA and ICF (2016) ‘Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2016’, Ministry of Health, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Schreinemachers, P., Bhattarai, D.R., Subedi, G.D., Acharya, T.P, Chen, H.-p., Yang, R.-y., Kashichhawa, N.K., Dhungana, U., Luther, G.C. and Mecozzi, M. (2017) ‘Impact of school gardens in Nepal: A cluster randomised controlled trial Journal of Development Effectiveness 9, 329-343.