School gardens as the source of a mix of vegetables on the plate: this is one part of our project in the East Indian state of Odisha – the other focuses on gender equality. Studies have shown that girls are disadvantaged in almost all schools. 80 teenagers from each school are trained in gender-equality issues to raise awareness of gender stereotyping and reduce discrimination.
The Indian state runs the world’s largest school dinner programme – and yet the children on the subcontinent are among the very pupils who frequently suffer from vitamin A or iron deficiency. The reason for this is unbalanced meals. Malnutrition leads to developmental disorders that it is almost impossible to compensate for. The children find it harder to concentrate, they get sick more often, then they miss school – a vicious circle.
Gardens that are close to nature
Recognising this, the government has instructed schools to plant school gardens, so that more vegetables are available for a healthy diet. But this is not the end of the story. For schools lack essential know-how: for example, there are no instructions on how to plan and lay out kitchen gardens. This is where SWISSAID’s work begins:
- Agroecological cultivation professionals and nutritionists lend the children their expert knowledge. The schools receive garden tools, barrels for the production of compost and material for biological pest control. Local seed varieties are planted, which are supplied by local producers.
- Volunteers support the work in the gardens and see to the preparation of the harvested vegetables in the school kitchen during lessons. The schoolchildren document their work and present it in public (through posters, articles in magazines, videos) to make the kitchen gardens better known and to gain support.
- On visiting days, parents are informed about healthy nutrition. Most children come from poor farming families. The aim is for families to set up such gardens in their own homes after they have seen the positive effect they have on their children.
The initial results of the project are encouraging. And SWISSAID is not letting up – after all, what is at stake is the welfare of thousands of children, who in future will have to take two helpings of vegetables.