In March 2020, a one-of-a-kind international publication came out, to which Slow Food contributed with experiences from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda related to the The Gardens in Africa project. This is the book Agrobiodiversity, School Gardens and Healthy Diets: Promoting Biodiversity, Food and Sustainable Nutrition, already available online in printed and e-book format, and which at the end of the year (December 2020) will be available for download and consultation for free.
School gardens make something very difficult possible: bringing together in a single activity the aspects of food sovereignty, community production of knowledge and food, environmental education and gastronomic culture, preservation of local biodiversity, and strengthening (or reactivating) the links between the ecosystem and its inhabitants.
It is precisely the open-air classrooms that Slow Food has been promoting in Africa for almost 10 years, and which even in these difficult times (with schools closed almost everywhere in the world) do not stop. They are based on shared knowledge, which can be replicated, of which students and teachers feel proudly responsible and who can contribute materially when the food on the market is scarce or higher.
It is clear that there is no single model of a school garden. There are many variables: different ecological contexts, countries at different latitudes, and with greater or lesser resources available, in-depth study of agronomic or culinary aspects, age of the students involved, the involvement of the local community…. The book, Agrobiodiversity, school gardens, and healthy diets, has the particular advantage of bringing out this richness and variety (over 75 collaborators have contributed to the publication): it includes case studies from all over the world (Australia, Vietnam, Hawaii, Philippines, India, Nepal, Morocco, Lebanon, Sub-Saharan Africa, …) from different contexts and experiences, urban and rural areas, indigenous communities and international organizations.
An interesting work for everyone and especially for those who want to start this type of educational activity: the most successful practices are reported as well as the most common critical aspects, what are the essential elements, and what strategies to improve and fully integrate this type of teaching in school curricula.
“When I talk to colleagues, friends, and family about the book [and your work] it arouses so much enthusiasm and interest, it resonates so clearly with them, how important it is to empower kids to be able to eat more healthily, make informed decisions about what they grow and eat and lead healthy and sustainable lives,” stresses Danny Hunter, senior scientist of the research team that worked on the publication.
The Slow Food network is proud and grateful to have been involved in this precious work, created by The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and published in the Issues in Agricultural Biodiversity series by Routledge Earthscan publisher. Thanks to the interviews with the coordinators of the Slow Food Africa network, greater visibility was given to a fundamental work carried out by thousands of volunteers and activists, to the efforts and enthusiasm of many children, their teachers, and families.
In Slow Food school gardens – which we remember today are 1,690 in 35 countries – new generations of Africans are growing with this mentality. Students have practical experience of agroecological techniques, learn to respect and love the environment, to re-known the local food biodiversity and its adaptability to the specific climatic context, while acquiring culinary skills when involved in the preparation of food at the school canteen.
Lilian Shoo (16, from the Henry Gogarty Secondary School in Tanzania):
“I think gardening really pays off, apart from complimenting important nutritional contents in our meals it can also be a source of income. When I go back home for holiday I will actually share gardening experience with my family and friends.” And a volunteer agronomist points out that “This is an activity whose benefits touch everyone. If properly done, the school garden has the capacity to feed the entire surrounding community of the school.”
Charles Kariuki (in seventh grade at the Kangoya school in Kenya) shares his enthusiasm:
“I participate in gardening activities because I love the job. I have learned a lot, including new techniques like multi-storey gardens, portable gardens and drip irrigation using waste bottles among others. I introduced the techniques back to home as they were new to my family. The garden also creates a platform for socialization since we usually meet there and work as a team. Apart from learning different agricultural skills and science; we also organize educational storytelling sessions once a month.”