Sunday, September 24, 2006

School Gardens as a Tool Against Food Insecurity


Hello All, I know it's been a while since my last post, but I've been very occupied gathering material to what is going to be a busy blog for the coming weeks.

School Gardens: I arrive to Nicaragua about a month ago. I've been working (or rather volunteering) on the Special Programs on Food Security, task force set up by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. As an Agricultural Economist, I have the task of evaluating, from an economical point of view, the viability of school gardens when it comes to reduce food insecurity. As mentioned earlier, I have been busy visiting schools mainly in the north of the country (Somoto, Jinotega, Esteli, Madriz). Initially, I though of doing a Cost-Benefit Analysis, but the project is quite diverse and most of the benefits are in form of intangibles e.g. education, better nutrition, etc. So allow me to discuss the rationale behind the school gardens and why is it can be difficult to analyze them.

In Nicaragua about 30% of the population, especially in the rural areas, is considered food insecure. This means that they cannot produce or acquire enough food for an adequate diet. Since the repercussions of undernutrition are enormous especially in children, one must think of an immediate solution that puts food in the people's tables. Therefore, school gardens should serve as providers of nutritional food that kids can eat in their school lunch or take with them to their homes. And some school gardens are doing just that.

However, most schools don't have the experience, resources, and/or technical assistance to maintain a garden that will produce an output significant in the kids’ diet. When this is the case, we justify the gardens as methodical tools that make the learning process easier. Proponents and literature argue that gardens can be use in the teaching of math, biology, other sciences, and even language using the concept of "learning by Doing". The rational behind this is that practice will guarantee that the kids will learn the material better and easier. If this is the case, then he will be more prepared to face a situation of food insecurity. He/she for instance can get a job easier, can help their parents in their business, can even set up a garden in his house or in other words can get food easier. Sounds very good but is that really the case? How can we know? And more important is it the best choice given our limited resources?

These are some of the questions I have to struggle with for the next three months. To me is very easy to conclude that a school garden is an effective tool against food insecurity when this garden is producing lots food that is being used in the school kitchen, the kids’ homes, or even process and sold. If this is the case, is simply a matter of comparing the US$250 that cost to set up and maintain a garden for a year with the benefits: lots of food probably worth more than the garden cost, not to mention improved nutrition, education, social skills etc.

But when the gardens do not produce a significant amount of food, then is hard to see whether or not school gardens are a good tool against undernutrition. Here is the case when the intangibles must be quantified and numbers must be given to kids doing gardening. It is hard as an economist realizing that such a wonderful experience as gardening may not the best thing to do given the difficult challenges they’re facing.

I’ll keep you posted as I come up with answers to these questions. As always check the pictures at www.flickr.com/photos/rafamerchan
Best,

1 comment:

Denise said...

Wow, great blog. It's funny how we are all spread out across the world now. I leave for Nepal in January. I look forward to following your journey. Take care Thabo!