Benefits of children growing their own food – Sentinelassam – The Sentinel Assam

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Setting up kitchen/nutrition gardens in government schools across India is an innovative addition to the ‘Mid-Day Meal’ scheme for using organic and freshly-grown vegetables to provide nutrient-rich diet to the children.Setting up kitchen/nutrition gardens in government schools across India is an innovative addition to the ‘Mid-Day Meal’ scheme for using organic and freshly-grown vegetables to provide nutrient-rich diet to the children. It also helps the students take part in outdoor activities with hands-on training on growing organic vegetables. However, official data reveal that the pace of setting up nutrition gardens in schools has not gained the desired momentum in the country. So far, three lakh schools have set up nutrition gardens while about seven lakh schools are yet to develop such gardens in their premises. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth & Sports recommended the need to persuade these schools to set up kitchen/nutrition gardens at the earliest so as to provide wholesome food to the students thereby underlining the importance of providing nutritious food to students. The activities of setting up kitchen gardens is an important arena of learning for the children as they get involved right from planting seeds to taking care of the plants and harvesting the nutritious vegetables. They get introduced to learning the basics of plant science, agriculture and horticulture through observation and experiment which trigger more curiosity about the environment around them. They also learn practical lessons on soil science and the ecosystem of how the soil provides nutrients to crops. In the process, the school children learn how to grow their own food, include nutritious food in their diet which are critical for sustainable living. Besides, they also acquire other life skills of decision-making, making plans, and executing them. Developing nutrition garden is a teamwork involving teachers, students, cook-cum-helpers, parents, scientists from Krishi Vigyan Kendra and members of school management committees. Thus, these students get to learn how to collaborate with others to become successful in their endeavours. As part of the activities around developing the garden and imparting scientific knowledge to the students as well as monitoring, the schools are required to display the scientific and local names along with the nutritional values of each plant/shrub. Each school gets Rs 5,000 on a share basis between the Central government and the States for developing the kitchen garden under the flexi-fund component for innovative interventions in the ‘Mid-Day Meal scheme for purchasing seeds, equipment, and compost.In Assam, sustainability of kitchen gardens in schools located in the flood-prone areas is an issue. The ‘Annual Work Plan and Budget for 2020-21 for National Programme of Mid-Day Meals in Schools’ states that most of the kitchen gardens set up in 2018-19 were washed away in the devastating floods in the State during two waves of floods in July and August in 2019. In the beginning of the current financial year, 22,154 schools in Assam have kitchen gardens and work was initiated in 11,568 schools.The COVID-19 pandemic disruption in school education has also affected kitchen garden activities. The pandemic is reminder of the importance of boosting immunity of the children and focuses on importance of schools having kitchen gardens. Two key activities for supplementary nutrition are proposed under flexi-fund in the State. Development of school nutrition gardens by attaching one farmer to every school of the locality with yearly financial assistance at the rate of Rs 2,000 for each farmer in each school to set up and develop these gardens and also to impart training to the children in horticulture and agriculture. Another activity proposed is providing multi-vitamin or milk or banana or paneer or food of similar nutritional value to the children. Challenges of flood and soil erosion are required to be factored into planning and developing kitchen gardens and provide practical lessons to students as well as about coping mechanism on making agricultural and horticultural activities sustainable in adverse climatic condition and other disruptions. Formation of eco clubs in schools around activities in the kitchen gardens can enhance learning of children if club activities are made innovative with screening of films on basics of plant science, environment, biodiversity, and students encouraged to demonstrate their learning in the fields. Aesthetics of kitchen gardens play important role in invoking interests among children and therefore designing the layout of the gardens can be an interesting activity of the eco-club to harness their creative imagination. Selecting locally available vegetables and fruits also help students acquire practical knowledge suitability of local climatic condition for particular species. Exposure visits of the children to demonstration sites of KVK or local horticultural entrepreneur growing organic vegetables can help student connect with the larger canvas of agricultural and horticultural activities in their neighbourhood and help those students with special interests in such activities nurture bigger dreams of organic cultivation. Viewed from a wider perspective of inculcating scientific temperament among the school students, kitchen/nutrition gardens in schools needs promotion by all other line departments that are mandated tocontribute towards addressing the issues of hunger and malnutrition among children.
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