At a time when the Kenyan government is stepping up its call to young people to embrace farming, a regional NGO is piloting school breakfast clubs and kitchen gardens as a means of cultivating a culture of farming as a business from a tender age, with children benefiting directly from the food they grow.
Seeds for Africa has donated seedlings, farming tools and water tanks to over 20 primary schools in Kenya. The water tanks make it possible to harvest enough water for three months, which is enough time for the seedlings to fully mature.
Focused mainly on public primary schools, the initiative also seeks to ensure as more children as possible are kept in school, nutritionally fed, and earning something from the kitchen garden. "Many children do not attend school because they are kept home to collect firewood and water and care for siblings, so breakfast was an ideal incentive to encourage parents to send them to school," says the organization.
Before the clubs began, teachers were asked to provide attendance records, test results and assess each child's wellbeing. Without exception, attendance has risen to 95 per cent, test results have improved, and children have been happier where the gardens have gone in.
The project has also partnered with local nutritionists to change the diet that children are fed in schools. With limited budgets, the majority of the public schools provide a midday meal of maize and beans, which keeps hunger at bay, but which lacks nutrition. But the planting of kales, spinach, tomatoes, mangoes and pawpaws is now ensuring the kids get a balanced diet.
“You will be surprised at how much malnutrition and lack of essential nutrients these kids are subjected to. The Free Primary Education saw thousands of kids who couldn't afford to go to school now getting a chance, but the funds allocated by the government to fund the free education hasn't been enough to cater for the meals.
“We cannot chase the children away, and they still need to feed them, so we had to just give them the little we had, which I also admit has been so poor nutritionally,” said Miss Dorothy Kung'u, the deputy headteacher at St Perpetua primary school in Thika.
But the kitchen garden initiative now allow kids to complement the food the school offers with fresh vegetables, with further produce shared among children to take to their homes, and the surplus after that sold in the market.
Scott Ngure is a student at St Perpetua in class 6. Aged 12 years, he is among the kids who now go to the Thika market to sell the surplus fruits he grows on a small piece of land in the school. Together with other fruits and vegetables, he makes Sh1200 on a good market day, which is enough to give some to his mother, who has no stable job and works as a casual labourer at a pineapple plantation.
The money is also providing some funds for his school upkeep, which has seen him buy basic requirements like his school shirts, as well as rubber shoes, as he is a passionate footballer. “I want to own a big farm when I finish school and be supplying fruits and vegetables to all hotels and supermarkets in the country. I love how I get money from farming,” said Ngure, who is an avid Manchester United supporter.
The children own the programme wholly. Apart from the initial help of clearing land, it's the children who prepare soil, plant and water the seeds, keep the areas free of weeds and continue to care for their plants.
Some of the schools in Nairobi that have benefited from the project include Muguga Primary, Westlands Primary and River Bank Primary, which have been recognized by United Nations Environmental Program for their active involvement in embracing agriculture and conservation of the environment.
Overall, the project has now reached over 20,000 children in Nairobi and Thika alone and proven that public schools can sustain their children's nutritional diet while endearing more young ones into agriculture, at a time when agribusiness is fueling economic growth. “We need to tap into these young ones if we are to ensure they continue driving agribusiness in future. It hasn't taken off as such nowadays because there has been a dominant belief about the trade being a poor man's job, but if these kids go to the farm and actually do the selling themselves they will grow to want to stick to the trade,” said Dr. Livingstone Omondi an agricultural economist from the University of Nairobi.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter