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Food gardens nourish communities, learners

EduPlant programme reaches hundreds of people, transforming schools into food security hubs

When Kings Harvest Academy enrolled in Food & Trees for Africa’s (FTFA’s) EduPlant programme in 2019, its teachers and learners had no prior permaculture experience. Through EduPlant, sponsored by Tiger Brands, schools receive resources and training to develop their food gardens. And after just two years, King Harvest Academy, located near Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal, has been crowned the EduPlant Best Permaculture School 2021.

The school now not only produces its own nutritious food on-site, but it also mentors community groups and schools in the area. “Seeing one of our community gardens selling organic produce at Hlutankungu market was the highlight of the year,” says project leader Saaheed Faymay. “It was even better than the Manchester United versus Liverpool game – no offence.”

This is the aim of EduPlant: to give schools and communities the skills to feed themselves. The programme, run by FTFA since 1994, is the country’s longest-running and most impactful school greening and gardening programme. Endorsed by the Department of Basic Education’s National School Nutrition Programme, EduPlant offers schools in under-resourced communities and townships the resources, training and support they need to develop or improve their food gardens.

Skills, food to feed hungry children

And there is great need for such skills –– and nutritious food. According to the South African Child Gauge, more than one in four young children in the country. Poor nutrition is one of the major causes of stunting, which is when children do not grow and develop as they should. This percentage has remained static over the last three decades, but officials and academics fear that the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdowns may have pushed even more households into poverty and left more children hungry.

For 30 years, FTFA has been supporting schools to develop and sustain food gardens. Every two years, FTFA facilitators oversee 300 new schools to improve their productive food gardens. The EduPlant programme traditionally culminates in a competition to honour the best EduPlant permaculture food gardens. In 2021, Tiger Brands continued its commitment to the programme, in a bridging programme consisting of 12 months worth of support. 

“Despite the restrictive measures of the lockdown, social distancing and partial school closures, our schools responded with greater resilience,” says EduPlant facilitator Bharathi Tugh. “They took on the challenge to continue with their gardening activities whilst mentoring other schools and community groups. These secondary beneficiaries became empowered to effect phenomenal changes in their own gardens.”

School gardens as food hubs

FTFA has been looking to position EduPlant schools as “hubs” in their communities. “We want the schools in our programme to have a greater impact in the surrounding community,” says Robyn Hills, FTFA food programmes manager. EduPlant schools are now responsible for two satellite schools, as well as five homestead gardens.

“It’s how we can make a greater impact with the same budget, how we can do more with what we’ve got,” she says. “These are schools that know so much about permaculture, and this is a way for them to be recognised in their communities as food garden schools.”

EduPlant’s new strategy to create Edu-Hubs ensures that “learnings are spread and we can deliver resources to those satellite schools at a fraction of the cost”,” Robyn says.

The aim of this year’s intervention was to increase the sustainability at each school and encourage them to share their skills and surplus resources within their communities. FTFA and Tiger Brands scaled up this initiative in 2021, reaching 927 secondary beneficiaries. EduPlant hosted 96 workshops with the 247 participating schools across South Africa.

“This programme has been super beneficial not only to us as a school but also the community that our kids come from. Phambili EduPlant Phambili!” says Nonjabulo Majozi, a teacher from the Mooi River Cluster.

Schools overcome Covid struggles to win top honours in EduPlant food garden programme

The runner-ups in this year’s competition also experienced the benefits of the EduPlant programme. Bet-El School in Kuils River in the Western Cape, which came second, offers education and skills training for learners with special needs. Despite Covid-19’s negative impact, the school’s mentorship programme saw great success and it was able to integrate permaculture into its curriculum.

Similarly, third-place Sesete Primary School in Mpumalanga became an EduPlant hub, despite the strict Covid lockdown. The school trained not only its own learners, but shared its new skills  with three other schools – Madizi Secondary School, Mphako Primary School, and Nhlengelo Primary School – as well as five homesteads. They were taught how to make food garden beds, the importance of mulch, tree care, composting, succession planting, and establishing mandalas and lizard hotels.

“We are grateful for the EduPlant programme since our initiative would not have survived if it had not been for the resources and workshops offered,” says project leader Moses Nthoke.

School food gardens nourish more than learners’ bodies

Ultimately, schools reaped the rewards of their effort and dedication. “With school food gardens, we aren’t only feeding learners’ bodies, but also their minds. With full stomachs, they are able to concentrate and learn better in school,” says FTFA’s Robyn.

“And they also learn that the more effort that you put into a garden, the greater the yield and the rewards.”

Support EduPlant now by donating to the programme.

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