Why would Malawi not follow this example of Cambodia ?

HOW VEGETABLE GARDENS IN CAMBODIA CHANGE LIVES

To date, in Odar Meanchey province, there are 43 schools with vegetable gardens, 48 teachers trained in sustainable gardening and 8,900 students trained in sustainable gardening.

The School Vegetable Gardens

The three schools we visited were a mix of primary and secondary level, and in all three schools, you could see the vegetable garden as you came into the school. I loved the ‘impression’ that having such an instantly visible garden gave to the school grounds. It was immediately clear that each garden was a dedicated and well-tended space and was integral to the school.

The children we met were enthusiastic about being a part of the vegetable garden project, and we felt welcome as guests. The school children had helped to build each of the gardens, and they had been designed such that there was plenty of space to walk around and between the rows of crops, and to be able to easily tend to and harvest the crops from either side of a row.

As part of the Green Shoots Foundation’s Food Agriculture & Social Entrepreneurship program ASPUS, as its initial focus specifically addresses a lack of education and skills in rural areas and promotes sustainable farming techniques. I was, therefore, interested to see and learn more about which environmental, sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices were being used in the vegetable gardens and how these worked or were adapted to the Cambodian climate. The staff I chatted to at the schools were happy to point out these practices and to share more information about them.

Reflections

The visit to the schools in Cambodia has had a profound effect on me. The visit was inspiring and reminded me of how something as simple as an edible community space designed on sustainable and regenerative practices can have multiple positive effects on both people and places. Ratana shared the mission of CIDO, that, “Cambodian people have social and economic security that would enable them to have a productive and meaningful life.”

As well as learning about the practical and vocational elements of the vegetable gardens I also heard about the wider social benefits the vegetable gardens have had within the local communities. Examples included children from the schools who were now also growing food at home and some of the parents and families of the students who wanted to become more involved in the food growing projects at the schools and/or in the community. For the students, one of the best parts of the program is, of course, sharing the harvest.

Schools can also be awarded a Best Practice certificate, and we visited one of these schools. The school director took the time to talk with us about the achievement and the effects that the program has had on the school and the wider community.  The school was proud of the best practice success and equally keen to share the knowledge and learning they had experienced with other schools and within the wider community.

The next phase of this program will focus on social enterprise through the sponsorship of students for food and agriculture vocational training and investment in food & agriculture or rural Social Enterprises for young entrepreneurs.

I will be following this development with interest as well as keeping in touch about how the vegetable gardens in the schools are growing and evolving and innovating over time. I would love to re-visit the area as the program develops.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.