The ambitious program aims at no less a lofty goal than food self sufficiency
SAP: The school agriculture program (SAP) has been identified as one of the means to sustain the central and autonomous schools, agriculture ministry officials said.
The SAP task force, including officials from education ministry, will soon visit the schools to identify the necessary infrastructure for a quick start to the program in those schools.
The livestock and vegetable programme was revisited after the inception of the government’s central school initiative last year.
School agriculture programme coordinator with the council for renewable resources research of Bhutan (CoRRB), BB Rai, said earlier it was left to the schools to have the programme, but now it was mandatory for these schools.
The programme was initially started to promote dignity of labour among students in the eighth Plan, and has now grown to make students ‘work, produce and consume.’
“The programme’s advantages are that the students learn farming, eat fresh vegetables, and the school earns its revenue,” BB Rai said.
The schools will create a fund for the programme in the first year through the sale of their farm produce, and then build on it thereafter. All schools will have a minimum of 50m2 (metre square) of vegetable garden, and rear livestock, such as pigs, chicken and cattle or fish, according to the geographic and climate zones the schools are located at. All materials, including seeds, tools, and animal feed among others will be provided to schools.
The large scale farming in schools is also expected to help meet the country’s food self-sufficiency, as local production meets only 60 percent of the demand.
If it goes well, it will help meet nutrition requirements to about 30 percent of the country’s population. “The school agriculture farming is able to meet about 20 percent of the vegetable requirements in the schools to date,” agriculture officials said.
The government spends about Nu 4M on the programme annually.
The produce will also be sold at lower prices to the schools. “Schools can buy more goods with limited budget because of this programme,” BB Rai said.
While imparting education remains the programme’s primary goal, it also aims to supplement the school mess with vegetables, meat and dairy products.
As an incentive, certain portion of the proceeds from the sale of the sale to the school mess would go to the students.
Selected SAP club members or students, who are studying the agriculture subject, will be trained during winter vacations, 20 each year, to become master students in the next academic year.
A batch of students would receive training in College of Natural Resources (CNR) in agriculture starting next week. A group of 22 teachers have completed advance agriculture training Rural Development Training Centre in Zhemgang recently.
“Students need not plough the large fields, it will be mechanised and only at later stages they might have to do it themselves,” BB Rai said, adding that the policy is to make it more attractive and not to expose them to drudgery.
Under the programme, 18 teachers were trained in herbal gardening in ICIMOD’s innovation park in Godavari, Nepal this winter.
“They’ll start herbal gardens in their respective schools, from this academic session,” he said.
The programme has covered 250 schools, almost half of the schools in the country, as of December last year.
Of the 250, 68 have piggery, 45 poultry farms, and 220 grow vegetables, besides dairy farms too.
CoRRB also has 35 primary schools identified for the ‘vegetables go to school’ project with the Asia Vegetable Research Development Centre in Taiwan.
Agriculture and Food Security (AgFS) subject for HSS
Students in 30 schools have the option to study agriculture and food safety as an optional subject, including 10 higher secondary schools starting the syllabus for class XI this academic session.
This year class XI students in 10 identified schools would have the option to learn farming through a syllabus developed by CoRRB. The agriculture and food safety subject launched two years ago in 20 schools across the country.
By Tshering Palden