Royal visit: The World Food Programme will gradually withdraw its school feeding support from Bhutanese schools by 2019. As a transition measure, its goodwill ambassador HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn initiated support for agriculture programmes in schools.

Renowned for her services in promotion of child nutrition and food security, her initiative Agriculture for School Lunch project is feeding school children off their own school gardens in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam.

In Bhutan, so far six schools received support under the project. Yurung, Wanakha and Wangbama central schools were the first three to implement the project in 2012.

The project expanded to Samtengang CS of Wangdue, Norbuling CS of Sarpang, and Tsangkha CS of Dagana in 2014.

Since 2007, the Thai princess supported projects in the schools. She has spent USD 85,000 on land development of vegetable gardens, building livestock sheds and green house, and irrigation facilities in schools.

The budget does not include expenditure on more than 55 teachers and education ministry officials who underwent training in Bangkok.

The princess sponsored the project’s focal teacher of Yurung CS for a master degree in health education from Thailand. He will graduate next month.

The Princess visited Wanakha and Wangbama CS.

The Princess will check on work progress in Samtengang CS today where the other three schools will also present their project reports.

The Princess’s support has supplemented agriculture ministry’s efforts to promote agriculture in schools through its school agriculture programme (SAP).

Council for RNR Research of Bhutan’s SAP coordinator, BB Rai said: “The human resource development aspect of this project has filled a huge gap in developing agriculture schools.”

Schools reported that the projects led to an enormous boost in the self-sufficiency of agriculture produce for their feeding programmes.

Samtengang CS will inaugurate a new poultry farm with 344 pullets with a grant of Nu 400,000 to feed its 791 students.

Under the SAP it developed more than an acre of vegetable gardens and bought three jersey cows.

“We’re hopeful that this would help the school in feeding the students healthy food,” Samtengang CS principal Gangaram Rai said.

“Ever since the inception of the project in our school the body mass index report has shown gradual decrease of 45 percent in waste category,” Wanakha CS Principal Kinley Jamtsho said. “This in turn increased students’ attendance,” he said.

A class IX student of Wanakha CS, Chencho Wangmo said the school allows them to learn new things that she shares with her parents.

The school also reinstalled the potato chips-making unit that earns Nu 2,000 a month making chips and dry vegetables.

The modern irrigation facilities acquired through the project have saved his students more than 20 minutes in fetching water for the vegetable garden.

Wangbama CS comprises of piggery, poultry, and vegetable garden. A total of USD 12,439 has so far been spent on the programme. Its eight teachers from the school underwent a workshop in Bangkok.

The school also stood first in the School Agriculture Programme in 2015 at the lower secondary level.

“The generous support in developing agriculture programme is a symbolic gesture of your love for children and the youth,” Wangbama CS principal Sonam Drukpa said.

Norbuling CS recently bought a power tiller to till more than an acre of vegetable garden.

Tsangkha CS invested in securing it drinking water supply and irrigation for its garden.

“Earlier the school used murky water in summer as the supply was not properly secured,” the project’s focal person in the education ministry, Desang Dorji said.

The project is now seen as a holistic development model not only for achieving sustainable development but also improving lives of children and the community at large.

The school agriculture programme began in the eighth plan to promote dignity of labour among students, and has now grown to make students ‘work, produce and consume.’

The number of schools implementing the programme increased from 110 in 2008 to 250 in 2014, and 265 last year. Besides teaching students agriculture skills, it also contributed substantially to the food requirements of the schools.

Agriculture production is also on the rise. From 48,090 eggs in 2008, the programme last year produced 436,380 eggs, with an annual average growth of 48 percent.

Vegetable production increased almost four times to 126 metric tonnes in 2014 and pork production jumped more than eight times to 42MT from 5MT in 2008.

Based on the World Health Organisation baseline, SAP contributed 3.52 percent of the total requirements of food in the boarding schools across the country, while the contributions of pork and eggs are 35.29 percent and 12.20 percent respectively.

Of the 172,393 students, 33,131 benefited from the school-feeding programme in 2014. More than 94 percent of SAP schools do not have any nutritional deficiency.

Tshering Palden