Some 14 years ago, teachers, education officials and students were attending a two-day seminar in Thimphu to discuss a new project. It was targeted at enhancing nutrition in school meals, earn some income for school development fund and encourage the dignity of labour.
As an agrarian based society, the School Agriculture Programme or SAP was being introduced in a few schools. There was a bigger objective beyond schools earning some money or supplementing vegetables or meat to the school mess. It aimed at the younger generation particularly with an emphasis to attract them to farming so that the unemployment problem could be mitigated. It was also hoped that it could play a vital role in addressing the rural to urban migration.
Going by the findings of an independent study, the programme has become a huge success. This is evident from the increasing number of schools who wanted to introduce the SAP before it was made mandatory for all schools with boarding facility.
The programme is saving the government Nu 11 million every year, as they need not supplement the food requirements of the school. More than 94 percent of SAP schools are nutrition sufficient and many are making money. Schools have poultry and fisheries guaranteeing them improved diet.
Schools like Damphu have enough land to make the school self sufficient in food if all the land is brought under cultivation. The teachers want it and students have the zeal. A bigger success is imparting wholesome education. Not all students will graduate to become civil servants, doctors, or engineers. Some will have to return to the farms. They will have the skills to make a living or even start a farming business, which in today’s context is a lucrative one.
Saving Nu 11M may not be a huge amount for the government, but the bigger benefit is inculcating the value of education beyond the syllabus. If schools can become food self sufficient without hampering studies, if students can learn life skills and if lives are saved because the level of nutrition intake improves, the SAP needs all the support and priority.
With the concept of central schools where the government bears all the cost of feeding thousands of children, the agriculture programme will ensure continued supply of healthy food. This will also go well with the government’s policy of import substitution. Bhutanese grow all sorts of vegetables in summer and we even export them.
A balanced approach could lead to producing future poultry, fishery or piggery owners in the near future. And in the long term, it would help in our policy of ensuring food security.
The programme is a success. There is a will to do it and our educationists, agriculturalists and students can do it. The success will become a huge achievement if we carry it forward with the same commitment and interest.