Planting seeds for nutrition: the application of the Food Tree and Crop Portfolios in school gardens - a case study from Machakos and Laikipia Counties, Kenya

To tackle the behavioural challenges associated with inadequate consumption of healthier foods and inadequate production and seasonal availability - in World Agroforestry’s Food Trees Project, schools were selected as an essential entry point to reach target communities and harness the food and environmental benefits of integrating a diversity of food trees into landscapes, through the portfolio approach described previously.

Schools provide an excellent platform for influencing positive behaviour change and provide a ready framework for peer to peer learning amongst the pupils, parents and local communities (Box 6.1). This platform provides an opportunity to support integrated agriculture and nutrition training - through curriculum-based learning, transfer and exchange of technologies and information, reinforced by practical activities and interactive demonstration sites.

With partners. World Agroforestry implemented a school garden programme in several of its project sites in Kenya - two in Machakos county and one in Laikipia county (Figure 6.3). The programme was designed and implemented with multiple stakeholders including local government agencies - Ministries of Education, Agriculture, and Health, local school management, parent committees, the wider farming communities, and an international NGO - Feed the Children1- based in Kenya. The main purpose of the programme was to promote the cultivation of a greater diversity of ecologically suitable, nutrient-dense, and seasonally available foods, and, through targeted nutrition education and awareness campaigns, to promote the relevance of indigenous and underutilized foods for increased consumption to deliver healthier diets. This was achieved by


Kenyan students blaze a trail for 'planetary health' diet

Children have been working hard to grow nutritious food in their school garden, boosting community health. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, and nuts provide essential micronutrients for good health. But in East Africa, as in many other parts of the world, diets are dominated by starchy foods, with low consumption of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.

In rural Machakos, about 100 km southeast of Nairobi, school student clubs have been focussed on establishing school gardens which provide a diversity of healthy foods. With the help of agroforestry researchers, a green-fingered teacher committee and a local NCO, the barren plot behind their school was carefully divided up to plant climate-adapted, nutritious fruits, vegetables, and pulses. The purpose is not only to educate youth on the important link between agriculture and healthy diets but also to link to surrounding farmers who visit the schools as demonstration sites to see how the approach has worked.

Vitamin A and C-rich mango and potassium-rich indigenous chocolate berry and desert date trees grow alongside vegetables high in iron and vitamin A, like spinach and black nightshade.

Including indigenous fruit trees like chocolate berry is important as these fruits are harvested several times a year and children enjoy the juicy 'chocolate' pulp. Once established these trees do not need much care, but one of the challenges is the initial seed germination, which can be difficult.

The big idea is to show communities that normally suffer nutrient gaps in their diets how growing the right combination of food can provide year- round essential nutrition, as well as opportunities to generate income.

Full story:

(i) strengthening the capacities of the target groups, mainly pupils and parents, on the production and utilization of indigenous and underutilized tree foods, and other foods available in the site-specific portfolios; (ii) reinforcing the organizational capacity of the programme’s school management committees and the 4K club - Kuungana, Kufanya, Kusaidia Kenya, Swahili for ‘Coming together, to Act, in order to Help Kenya’ - members through agriculture and nutrition education training; and (iii) establishing school gardens based on the site-specific food tree and crop portfolios to act as demonstration and interactive learning spaces for the pupils, parents, and their wider communities (Figure 6.4).

To increase outreach at the community level, groups of lead farmers were selected based on interest and availability of space and water on their farms, to

K Club pupils standing in front of their ‘Talking Wall' at school painted with the diversity of healthy foods they have sown in their communal garden

FIGURE 6.4 4K Club pupils standing in front of their ‘Talking Wall' at school painted with the diversity of healthy foods they have sown in their communal garden.

Source: World Agroforestry/Alina Paul-Bossuet.

School children participating in a training module on tree planting and management

FIGURE 6.5 School children participating in a training module on tree planting and management.

Source: World Agroforestry/Alina Paul-Bossuet.

establish portfolios and use them as demonstration sites and to promote the programme to their community and encourage co-learning. Additionally, the established school demonstration gardens were used during community open days to provide training. Theoretical and practical training demonstrations on optimum agronomic practices and food and nutrition training were provided. The agronomic training module included topics such as tree and crop planting and management, soil fertility, pest and disease management, and water use (Figure 6.5).

The food and nutrition training module included topics such as food for nutrition and healthier diets, safe and nutrient-sensitive food preparation, and cooking demonstrations with nutritious recipes. Several customized training tools were developed by the programme partners for optimizing the delivery of information to the pupils and local communities (Figure 6.6).


How to develop a portfolio using location-specific data on food tree species phenology, months of household's food security, individual level food consumption, and tree food nutrient composition data to target harvest and specific micronutrient gaps in local food systems (McMullin et al., 2019b).

School garden establishment

Step 1. Site and school selection - Select school based on criteria such as availability of farming space, access to water resources, secured land and interest/ motivation of school committee.

Step 2. School garden committee - Establish a school garden management committee which comprises of students, parents, teachers, school board of management members and local technical personnel from relevant ministries including agriculture, health, and education.

Step 3. Sensititization - Hold a sensitization meeting with school garden management committee and wider community stakeholders. During this meeting, the purpose of the school garden is explained, the requirements to establish and manage a school garden are detailed, and the expectations of stakeholders are discussed as well as the roles and responsibilities to ensure ownership and commitment to and sustainability of the garden project.

Step 4. Training - Undertake a comprehensive school health and nutrition training with all stakeholders (listed previously) to create awareness of these concpets and the purpose of the school garden and the location-specific portfolio.

Step 5. Land preparation - Prepare school garden by clearing the land, install required infrastructure including fencing, water support (water tank etc.), and prepare land for planting of food trees and complementary crops based on the location-speific portfolio and with advice and technical backstopping porvided by agricultural techncial staff.

Step 6. Planting - Procure quality planting material in prepartion for onset of the rains and plant seeds and seedlings, based on good agronomic practices such as hole depth, width and position for seedlings, and with adequate soil coverage, watering etc.

Step 7. Carden management - Monitor the porgress of the planted seed and seedlings, maintain adequate watering and weeding, and inspect the crops for any early signs of pest and disease.

Challenges for establishing location-specific portfolios in school gardens

  • • Access to quality inputs, seed and seedlings.
  • • Access to water for establishment of the garden and survival of the crops, partciuarly tree seedlings.
  • • Occurrence of pests and diseases, and subseqeunt management of these to esnure the health of crops and the garden.
  • • Appropriate technical know how for ensuring good agronomic practices for optimally establishing and managing the garden.

School gardens are established with educational goals to engage students and their families, school staff and the wider community to make the connection between growing a diversity of foods and healthy diets, develop life skills and increase environmental awareness. The success of school gardens is due to a good understanding of the purpose and multiple benefits of the garden and consistent engagement of the school and community in managing the garden.

Customized food and nutrition education training tools developed by programme partners for use in schools and with communities

FIGURE 6.6 Customized food and nutrition education training tools developed by programme partners for use in schools and with communities.

Source: World Agroforestry/Fruiting Africa Project.

With a combined population of over 1,000 pupils, the three project pilot schools have established school gardens. These are managed by pupils - specifically members of the schools’ 4K clubs with support from the schools’ management committees including parents. The school gardens not only provide a direct learning site for the pupils — but also facilitate wider community engagement and learning for greater adoption of the portfolios into farms. The school’s gardens consist of site-specific portfolios which recommend ecologically suitable food trees, vegetables, pulses and staple crops including both indigenous/underutilized and exotic food tree species. Some of the indigenous and underutilized food tree species included in the portfolios; Vitex payos (chocolate berries), Azanza garckeana (azanza), Balanites aegyptiaca (desert dates), Berchemia discolor (bird cherry), Vangueria madagas- cariensis (common wild medlar), Tamarindus indica (tamarind), Rhus natalensis (wild berry), and Euclea divinorum (magic gwarra), to list a few. As mentioned in section 2 (The role of agroforestry for diversified production, diets and improved health), trees provide a variety of nutritious foods and particularly indigenous and underutilized fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals and have a great potential to combat micronutrient deficiencies by diversifying staple based diets.

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