JIS News

Since its official launch just over a year ago, the National School Garden Programme is reaping rewards, realising more than over $32 million worth of agricultural produce, and providing fresh fruits and vegetables for schools across the island.
The programme, which was launched in October 2008 by Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. J.C. Hutchinson, has been implemented in more than 500 primary, secondary and tertiary level schools islandwide.
According to Executive Director of the Jamaica 4-H Clubs, Lenworth Fulton, this number represents half of the proposed target, which is about 960 to 1,000 school gardens islandwide by October 2011.
Mr. Fulton, who describes the programme as “one of the largest, most ambitious projects that the Jamaica 4-H Clubs has ever undertaken,” tells JIS News that despite a few snags along the way, the venture has progressed quite successfully and is moving right on target.
“We have done our part in helping to keep Jamaica’s agricultural production on a certain level and have generated additional foodstuff to schools and to the wider population to the tune of $32 million,” he informs.
Mr. Fulton, whose organisation has direct responsibility for the project, estimates that by March of this year, the number of school gardens will be increased to between 580 and 600.
The students involved in the project have been successfully growing various crops in their school gardens, such as cabbage, okra, tomato and corn, as well as raising livestock, including rabbits, pigs and poultry.
The Executive Director points out that most of the produce are used to sustain the school canteens, but notes that there are some schools that have been able to reap financial rewards by selling what they have grown, on the local market.
“There are some schools, such as Dinthill Technical High in St. Catherine, which have larger production than the school can absorb, so they would have commercial markets for their produce as well. But for the majority of the schools, their products go right back in the canteens for the children to eat,” he says.
Mr. Fulton tells JIS News that not only has the garden programme assisted in the practical promotion of the Government’s ‘Grow what you eat, Eat what you grow’ campaign, but it has also given the students a sense of responsibility and helping them to develop traits of teamwork and co-operation.
He adds that the programme has also been able to meet its objectives of getting young people to recognise and accept the role they play in food production, and to treat agriculture as a viable business option.
Another aspect of the programme, which is to be implemented this year, according to Mr. Fulton, is the further integration of garden learning in the curricula of local schools.
In this respect, the Jamaica 4-H Clubs is in discussions with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The objective is to link school gardens to the teaching and learning of various subjects.
“We’re seeking funding from the FAO. It’s now in the pipeline and the Ministry of Education will spearhead that section of the programme,” he notes.
According to Mr. Fulton, the Jamaica 4-H Clubs was represented at a recently held seminar in Barbados, where the concept of ‘Master Gardens’ was explored.
“Other countries in the world, like Japan, Brazil and some states in the United States of America have Master Gardens. And, what they do is to teach a number of initiatives, such as Mathematics, English and Art. They also encourage children to eat fresh foods and vegetables,” he says. “So, depending on what concept they’ll be teaching in a particular subject, the teachers will take the classes to the gardens,” he adds.
Mr. Fulton tells JIS News that although the project has been doing well, it has had to face a number of obstacles, such as the drought being experienced by the country and also the global recession, adding that he is grateful that the Government has maintained its promise of annual funding. Some $108 million has been allocated for the venture.
“In terms of the recession, it has affected our progress with respect to inputs from private sector organisations. The companies that help us with fertiliser, fencing and other donations are not able to give as much as they would in the past,” he notes.

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