As an exercise in self- sufficiency and improved diet, the school agriculture programme is becoming a huge success
COVER STROY: The sky is overcast with a mix of clouds and smoke from the forest fire. The surrounding hills echo with the faint rumbling of thunder. It is a gloomy day in Tsirang. But if thunder and clouds are the harbinger of rain, rain is what farmers are waiting for.
Farmers are as busy as bees preparing for yet another season of crops, both cash and food. In Damphu, another group of people are also eagerly awaiting the rain. The students and teachers of the higher secondary school are no less than farmers. They grow vegetables, corn and fruits. A good rain would help them to begin tilling the land, which they have readied last week after clearing the thickets with fire.
Damphu HSS is one of the many schools in the country that have taken up the school agriculture programme (SAP). Teachers and students are serious about it. Prospects are good, as they have 58.6 acres of barren land that they can turn into fertile fields.
SAP was introduced in 2000 to supplement nutrition in the school feeding programme, create awareness about self-employment opportunities in the renewable natural resource sector, and to promote dignity of labour. In short, it was a part of providing wholesome education.
Today, the school is already reaping the benefits of the programme. Besides vegetables, fresh and organic, the school’s poultry, piggery and two cows provide variety to what is cooked in the school mess. Vegetables are sold to the school mess. Last year, the agriculture club made Nu 16,470 from vegetables, Nu 65,000 from oranges and Nu 53,760 from selling piglets. Besides providing curd once a week, dairy products are sold outside in winter, when the school breaks for vacation. That earned Nu 75,620 last year.
A model for an autonomous school, Damphu HSS could achieve self-sufficiency in food if all the 58.6 acres are turned into cultivable land. Food served from the school mess has improved. The 849 students, including day-scholars, were served flattened maize as snacks with suja (butter tea) until it lasted after the school harvested 300kg of maize last year.
The school’s SAP coordinator, BB Ghallay, says the school saves overhead cost when buying from the school. “While students get better food, price is five percent cheaper than that of the local market,” says the coordinator. As an incentive, students receive 25 percent of the total sales. The rest is deposited in the school’s SAP account.
School principal Dawa Tshering said a large area of land had remained barren for many years, and the school management, SAP committee and students decided to turn them into school agriculture land. “It’s a win-win situation,” he reasons. “Students can get fresh and nutritious vegetables and the school will have more agriculture land.”
Tsirang may be called the egg capital, but feeding eggs, even once a week, becomes expensive, according to principal Dawa Tshering. “Boarder students are given egg twice a week, as supply is guaranteed by the 400 hens in the school’s poultry farm.
Soon, fish and pork will be on the school’s menu. Six piglets are being fattened in the school’s piggery, and students counted about 2,000 fishes in the huge fishpond, measuring as big as the school basketball court, they created. Work will soon start to renovate and expand it.
However, SAP coordinator DB Ghallay said, while students were engaged every Saturday in the agriculture land, there were caretakers to look after the piggery and the cattle. A three-member team, consisting of one teaching staff, a non-teaching and one ESP, monitor the poultry, fishery, piggery and diary farms.
Students welcome the SAP programme. “There’s a lot more to learn outside the classrooms,” said a 17-year-old class X student, Kesang. “We even learn how to prune orange trees. We can pass on the skill to our parents in the village,” he said.
Reputed for vegetables and oranges, taking farming as a profession is not new to even school dropouts in a dzongkhag blessed with fertile land and favourable climatic conditions. “We can take the knowledge back home,” says Sonam, another student. “Some could fall back on agriculture business.”
Some are mindful of their priority, even as they appreciate the school’s initiative. “In the excitement of school agriculture, our teachers and school management shouldn’t forget that our priority is studies,” said a student, not wanting to be named.
SAP is one of the most successful programmes introduced in schools. In Thimphu, Khasadrapchu is reputed for the programme, winning the best SAP initiative (nationwide) for the last two years.
The school has 1.2 acres of the 11.3 acre school area dedicated to SAP. Today they have 44 fruit trees, 80 hens and a mushroom farm. It has Nu 0.15 million and its coordinator Laxman Chhetri is happy to see the programme becoming sustainable.
Khasadrapchu won a cash prize of Nu 10,000 for two consecutive years. Before that, the school won three consecutive runners up position.
Back in Tsirang, teachers and students should be happy at the blackening sky. It started drizzling, when the article was sent to press on Tuesday evening.
Reported by Yeshey Dema, Tsirang