An innovative school gardening initiative in Kenya has been hailed a success following a 3-year pilot scheme, which also involved children, young people, teachers, project leaders, families and communities in the UK and India to garden and grow crops.
Co-ordinated by the UK charity, the Eden Project, and the Kenya Youth Education and Community Development Program, the Gardens for Life initiative has supported primary and secondary schools and their communities to garden, grow crops and ‘talk’ to other participating schools to share experiences and gain a better understanding of global issues, such as sustainable development, climate change, and their inter-connectedness - through food - with the rest of the world.
By combining classroom lessons on nutrition, biology and economics with hands-on experience of growing their own food in school plots, children have been introduced to the basic principles of agricultural production. Many of the Kenyan schools have supplied food to school kitchens and feeding programmes, with surpluses sold in local markets.
As well as improved diets among pupils, schools involved in the scheme reported increased attendance and better performance in class. In particular, attendance of pupils from poorer families improved and AIDS orphans had the opportunity to garden as payment for school fees. During the course of the initiative, community-school relations improved and the support of parent groups in fund-raising to support the scheme was particularly encouraging. Local communities contributed seeds, labour and expertise to the school gardens and in turn benefited from the schools’ trials of “new” crops, including courgettes and wheat, as well as research on controlling local pests.
While school food gardens are not new in Kenya, the international scope of Gardens for Life was novel, helping engage pupils in food production from a young age and to challenge the negative perceptions of agriculture. Over the long-term, the impact of the project is expected to grow as new pupils and teachers become involved in school gardening in the participating schools. Two Kenyan teacher training institutions have also been intimately involved in the project and the education authorities in the 3 districts involved have undertaken to support further development of school gardens and local/international linkages in their areas.
Teaching and learning resources developed during the pilot scheme have been used in another 85 schools in 21 countries. Following the success of the approach, The Eden Project plans to expand Gardens for Life to include schools and communities in South Africa, South America, the Middle East, Japan and the USA.
Besides DFID, the project has been supported by the UK’s Department for Education and Skills, Cisco Foundation, Syngenta Foundation, Future Harvest, Creative Partnerships (Cornwall), Barclays and Ernest Cook Trust.