School plus home gardens: A collab project between CPSU and Kansas State University to address food security concerns in the countryside

The economic setbacks brought about by the pandemic has immobilized many sectors of the government . More drastically, it led to food shortage while the demand for basic commodities continue to inflate. With the exorbitant price for food and other necessities soaring high, this has pushed low-income families further down into the mire of poverty. The children are downright affected in this scenario as parents struggle to put food on the table.

This distressing situation led Central Philippines State University to mediate by introducing to the community an intervention program to help secure food for the marginal households in the community. 

Through the University’s Research and Development Unit, and Extension and Community Services Unit in partnership with Kansas State University in collaboration with the College of Teacher Education, a webinar on “School Plus Home Gardens cum Biodiversity Enhancement” was conducted last May 27, 2021 and June 3, 2021 via Zoom Teleconferencing hosted by the R and D office.

The said event aims to provide inputs to teachers and education leaders on how they could introduce and integrate the importance of agriculture in their school, as well as promote nutrition and improvement of the holistic well-being of the learners including their families. Schools are seen as convenient settings to educate and promote health interventions to learners through the S+HGP or School plus Home Garden Projects. However, in this time of pandemic when pupils study from home, the aim is to lobby the project direct to their households so as to ensure a sustainable and wider impact to the community.

During the first session, best practices and success stories were shared by the guest speakers on how they applied S+HGP to their respective schools. They were Mrs. Michelle R. Samia, Master Teacher I of Labuin Elementary School at Pila, Laguna; and Ms. Soledad S. Villanueva, Public Schools District Supervisor of the Cavinti District School Division Office, Laguna.

In the second session, Dr. Gleen Gregorio, director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Studies and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and a professor of UP Los Baños, spoke on the importance of home gardening in this time of pandemic. He emphasized the necessity of growing food in the backyard as it is seen as therapeutic, that benefits the brain, heart, mind and body. 

“This is what we see as balance in agriculture. We grow food to nourish our body while we take care of the environment. This project will ensure better, bigger and brighter future for our home, school and environment biodiversity,” Dr. Gregorio explained.

Likewise,  Dr. Blesilda Calub, a University researcher, Agriculture Affiliate System, and an affiliate faculty of the College of Agriculture and Food Science in UP Los baños, shared to the group how their school championed in S+HGP with the goal of ending the cycle of poverty in their area. Their strategy was to integrate the project in their lesson plans for EPP/TLE, Science, Math and English subjects.

“The project is scaling up on its own as people see its impact to the community especially in promoting organic veggies. Having a home garden provides family savings, food security, and additional income, not to mention its benefit in improving immunity and in relieving stress,” Dr. Calub said. 

Furthermore, she encouraged everyone to apply the said project in their respective schools and community by formulating strategies for sustainable and resilient home garden systems. 

“Start small, and learn from it; evaluate your capacity to develop the project, then expand. Regardless of the area available in school and at home for the garden, wise and maximum utilization of the available space is always the edge,” was Dr. Calub’s advice to those who plan to start their own school garden.

Finally, Dr. Lamberto Perolina, Education Program Supervisor in Agriculture in the DepEd Division of Laguna, gave a talk on how S+HGP contributed a lot in the huge decline of malnourished children in their area. From what they started and seeing its huge benefits, they had continuously influenced nearby districts to also implement the project. Their winning practices include collaboration with stakeholders, linkages with partner agencies and LGUs, and leadership since principals are seen as prime movers in the implementation of the project.

“Home is the extension of school garden. In our practice, the project was not only limited to gardening vegetables but we expand to animal production, bee culture and tree planting. The clear manifestation of its effect is on the dietary benefits and nutritional status of the children as there was a decrease in the rate of severely wasted and wasted pupils,” Dr. Perolina said.

Dr. Manuel Reyes of Kansas State University expressed gratefulness to all the speakers for unselfishly sharing their best practices to everyone seeing how this project could save thousands of children from malnutrition and enjoy food security. These outputs will inspire and encourage parents as well to do home gardening. He likewise emphasized the importance of collaboration with stakeholders to speed up and further strengthen the project. 

Dr. Moraca, CPSU president, explained that this is part of the legacy of the University to bring a positive impact to the lives of the community especially to the farmers through various projects, programs and technologies that are being generated and extended to them.

Almost 300 attendees joined in the said event coming from Negros Oriental State University (NORSU) - Mabinay Campus, and the DepEd and SDO in Kabankalan City, San Carlos City and the Municipality of Mabinay, Negros Oriental.

By. J.A. Emoy