BIG Program – FAO case study
Vegetable Garden in School Project:
The Cavite, Philippines’ Experience for Enhancing Nutrition and Agro-biodiversity
As part of a total response to mitigate hunger and improve nutrition situation, the Department of Education (DepEd) institutionalized the Gulayan sa Paaralan Program (GPP a.k.a Vegetable for School program) in 2007. This program was further revitalized in 2010 with the National Greening Program, this time incorporating climate change mitigation and adaptation of components within school together with the Bio-intensive gardening technology to also address problems earlier identified as hindering the effective introduction and maintenance of school gardens.
The school based gardens aimed to contribute to food security and nutritional needs of school children; strengthen their appreciation and skills in agriculture and the environment; upgrade their parent’s knowledge in nutrition and agriculture, help conserve agro biodiversity of nutritional importance and eventually enhance transgenerational learning about the role of vegetable in family nutrition and health .
The GPP now adopts the Bio-intensive Gardening (BIG) technology popularized by the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in the mid-80s and has been hailed in the country and development partners like UNICEF as an effective way to address malnutrition among children. Two decades later, BIG is still widely practiced not only in the southern part of the country where it was pioneered but in other parts of the Philippines as well. This time IIRR is emphasizing a heavier reliance on easily available fertilizer resources and primarily local seeds. However, the major reason for the revival of this initiative was the emerging enabling policy framework within DepEd in the Philippines.
School gardens were introduced to around 3,000 children and in 2010 a partnership was forged with Department of Education (DepEd) in Cavite to formally introduce the BIG technology and enhance the school feeding programs in the province.
This case study features the adoption of BIG in Cavite province, located in the southern shores of Manila Bay of CALABARZON, as an effective strategy for diversifying food sources used in school feeding programs in public elementary schools.
In Cavite, sustaining garden productivity and functionality was a major challenge compounded by intense or prolonged rainfall and drought that contribute to difficulty in vegetable gardening all year round. Climate change was expected to further make school gardening a very challenging initiative. During this period, gardening interventions introduced by IIRR attempted to reduce the heavy reliance on procured inputs and chemicals used in gardens in order to enhance the chances for continued adoption and spontaneous diffusion from school to school. The approach in Cavite emphasized the utilization of nutritionally relevant local varieties. New evidence was generated on the technological, methodological and institutional approaches improving prospects for sustaining school garden interventions and further enhancing the use of the products by children, teachers and canteens within schools.
Twenty-seven schools were piloted for this integrated school gardening approach. The initial step was the development and promotion of BIG standards which was envisioned to sustain the gardens and strengthen the link with the school’s feeding program jointly developed with DepEd. The standards included size, location, use of soil and water conservation techniques, and use of trees as source of fertilizers and discouraged the use of chemicals and botanical insecticides. Climate –smart gardening techniques were also incorporated. Crop diversification was accomplished by emphasizing the use of indigenous and drought tolerant varieties which ensured that a variety of vegetables were made available all year round. Cover cropping using leguminous crops was also introduced especially during the dry season to prevent the drying of soil, reduce loss of topsoil and to suppress weed growth. At the opening of the new school year the cover crops were incorporated into the soil as green manure thus giving the gardens a fresh and new start with soil rich in organic matter and biological life.
To build wider ownership of the program, division-wide meetings were organized with key administrators of Department of Education. Agriculture teachers received a series of short and practice training events with a frequent discussion of the issue of sustainability. It was also during these meetings when evaluation protocol was discussed to determine whether the new approach would bring about the desired results. Capacity building, which included trainings, cross visits and study visits, was an integral component of the approach targeting the agriculture and home economics teachers.
Assessment of Program Design
Before launching the program, there was a careful assessment done on the factors perceived to affect garden sustainability as well as those that are likely to affect the links between the school gardens and school feeding programs. This was an important step to identity the appropriate or targeted actions that needed to be undertaken.
The adoption of the BIG technology was one of the key features of the integrated approach that promoted sustainable gardening techniques while emphasizing their use in feeding program. It has been proven to be a cost-effective strategy which has been improved through the years as new elements are emphasized every year deepening the quality of the gardens in an incremental manner. The narrow deep dug and raised bed methods with a component of fertilizer trees proved to be particularly useful in addressing the usual problems associated with gardening like flooding, drought which tend to characterize climate change challenges.
BIG combined with components like capacity-building, advocacy, mentoring of key people, provision of necessary but modest inputs were shown to be important components of a viable and replicable approach which eventually led to improving school based feeding programs. Teacher to teacher exchanges proved to be effective platforms for knowledge and experience sharing of good practices and\ contributed to promoting the approach in other schools. Through its participatory approaches, stakeholders were motivated and sustained their interest in the school gardens.
Impact and Sustainability
Overall changes in school gardens have been reported after the introduction and adoption of the BIG standards. Some of these documented changes include: (Baguilat et.al., 2015)
- Improvement in year-round availability of diverse vegetables with lesser inputs
- Easier garden maintenance thereby reducing labor requirements
- Improvement in yield and crop performance
- Improvement of soil quality due to adoption of soil enhancing practices
- Introduction and popularization of 17 types of indigenous vegetables which contributed to both diversification and availability all year round
- Increased diversity of recipes used in school feeding programs
- Effective results can be shown in a short-time, within a 12-18 month time frame.
In support of this program, a nationwide Oh My Gulay (Oh my vegetable) campaign, with the private sector sponsoring vegetable gardens in public school within the country was launched. Using multi media campaigns, parents were encouraged to increase the servings of vegetables and other crops as a more cost-effective solution to child malnutrition.
The Department of Agriculture’s Strategic Framework Agri-Pinoy has also included the provision of support to DepEd’s Vegetable for School Program. A series of seminars featuring local vegetable production through organic gardening technology, seeds and set of garden tools is conducted as part of the programme package.
Food production has also been incorporated in the school curriculum as a topic in Education for Home and Livelihood for elementary education.
By 2016, it is expected that more if, not all of the 42,000 public schools will adopt the school based garden approach jointly introduced in Cavite by IIRR and DepEd. The crop museum concept has been picked up and being expanded in support of school gardens. There is national support for this approach not only because of its proven impact but also because the approach is sustainable, practical and cheap.
Baguilat IP, Gonzalves JF, Endraca RE, Agdeppa IA, Monville-Oro E. Enhancing the Nutrition and Agro-biodiversity
Outcomes of School gardens. A working paper, IIRR, Philippines, Jan 2015.
IIRR. Bio-intensive garden standard for Schools. Philippines, year.
IIRR. Enhancing the Nutrition and agro-biodiversity Outcomes of School gardens. Policy Brief. Philippines, year.
The author wishes to thank Ms. Irish Baguilat and Dr. Jose Gonzalves for sharing the relevant documents, photos and
technical inputs in the preparation of this case study.