The school garden at Government School Mbabu-Nseh.
By Maggie Farrand
Bui is a remote and relatively inaccessible part of Cameroon. The local Mbororo people and others who live there struggle with poverty, malnutrition and low school enrollment rates, especially for girls.
To help improve crop production and provide nutritious meals to schoolchildren, Counterpart International works in partnership with local Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), teachers, farmers and community leaders to develop sustainable school gardens and farms.
After providing improved seeds and tools to the schools, Counterpart trained nearly 350 PTA members, teachers and community members on improved cropping techniques and proper nutrition. These community-wide efforts work to keep children healthy and enrolled in school, while teaching them how to grow nutrition-rich vegetables.
The results have been striking.
Eric Lenjo, head teacher of Government School Mbabu-Nseh happily reports, “Never in the history of Government School Mbabu-Nseh have we had the PTA supporting our agricultural activities which has accounted for increase in yields and bountiful harvests of vegetables from our school garden, and corn, beans, potatoes and soybeans from our school farm.”
This same experience is shared by 49 other head teachers of primary schools in Bui Division where Counterpart is implementing the Food for Education project.
Counterpart and its partner schools have established 50 school gardens and farms. Large quantities of beans, maize, potatoes, cabbage, huckleberry, tomatoes, soybeans, plantains and onions and other crops are produced.
In the last harvest, many schools experienced a 100 percent increase in potato production from 10 tons per hectare to 20 tons per hectare, thanks to the better cropping techniques. The production from the gardens complement the U.S.-donated commodities (rice, beans and oil) allowing for a diversification of the school lunch menu.
The benefits of cooperation
For many, there is new, meaningful engagement of parents in their children’s education and health.
Yembe Christopher, PTA President of Government School Mbabu-Nseh, observed that “PTA members have built a fence around the vegetable gardens to keep away stray animals, provided labor for land preparation, maintenance and harvesting of crops from the garden and farm. With these initiatives my school enjoys balanced and nutritious meals.”
In some of the schools, the output from the school farms and gardens has been so large that they have been able to reduce the need for imported commodities. In turn, Counterpart has been able to extend the program to 19 additional schools.
Counterpart intends to extend the size of the gardens and farms as a way to strengthen their sustainability once the USDA program has ended. One head teacher said, “The increase in agricultural activities on campus gives the opportunity for students to have practical lessons on agriculture and environmental education.” He added that he is sure that with the gardens will continue even after the project comes to an end.
Today, a total of 18,571 students (9,717 boys and 8,854 girls) are benefiting from the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program in Cameroon. In 2010, the number of those benefitting from the program increased nearly 40 percent.
Learn more about Counterpart International’s Food for Education Project in Cameroon.