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Healthy Practices Project, St. Ignatius Secondary School, Lethem, Reg. 9: Improving Food Security and Healthy Diets While Adapting to Climate Change

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The SISS serves the Amerindian communities in and around Lethem and has an enrollment of more than 700 pupils with a dormitory to accommodate 200 Amerindian students. The establishment of this model school farm aims to provide vegetables and fruits for the school feeding program and the daily meals served at the school’s dormitory.

Earlier studies by FAO (Food Security Assessment, 2004) and Ministry of Health/PAHO (Global School-Based Student Health Survey 2010-2011) identified Amerindians as vulnerable and food insecure groups with poor nutritional habits and lack of physical exercise as high risk factors for Non-Communicable Diseases.

Due to limited agriculture production by subsistence farming in the isolated hinterland, Amerindian communities spend an estimated 50-60% of their disposable income on mostly imported foodstuff. As a result these communities have limited nutritional intake.

After consultative meetings with the school and the St. Ignatius community on 11 June 2012, the project started by conducting a Youth Health Survey (YHS), which provided a useful baseline to measure the impact of improved nutrition on the school youth. This survey, carried out by a Canadian intern (recruited through PAHO’s SDE Area as part of the Faces, Voices, and Places initiative), established that 1 in 5 students at SISS aged 12-15 were stunted, eat less than the required amounts of fruits and vegetables while 3 out of 5 were either “sometimes”, “often”, or “always” hungry due to lack of food at home.

Ploughing and fencing (fence poles provided by the community) of the half acre lot also commenced in June 2012, but due to inaccessibility after heavy rains, the completion of the farm was delayed until September. The National Agricultural Research and Expansion Institute (NAREI) of the Ministry of Agriculture could finally commence planting on the school farm by the end of September. The innovations at this farm consist of drip irrigation, elevated beds of organically enriched soil and a shade house covering 1/3 of the half acre farm. The drip irrigation system significantly reduces the water demand but also reduces the vulnerability to the impacts from climate change. These triple-adaptations of drip irrigation, organically enriched soil and shading, allows not only for year round growing of produce, but also for teaching the agricultural science curriculum during all semesters. The planting, growing and harvesting of the crops is part of the school’s science curriculum and the school can now give double instead of single awards in agricultural science in which 90% of the students up to grade 11 participate. FAO provided training in the integrated farming curriculum and food security through their school-based learning program as well as food processing equipment and cooking utensils.

The existing water wells at the school, providing water to the school, the dorms and the teachers homes, did not have enough yield to provide adequate water for the drip irrigation system of the school farm and it was necessary to dig a new 20m (65ft) deep well.

The Nutrition Department of the Ministry of Health surveyed the dietary practices at the school and trained the staff of the school in planning and preparing improved dietary menus, promoting the use of fruits and vegetables in the daily diet and demonstrated the conservative method of preparing vegetables;

The first crop from the school farm project was harvested in December and harvesting of healthy produce of callaloo, pak choy, tomatoes, wiri wiri, bora bora, okra, sweet peppers, tomatoes, citrus and guava’s continues. Ms. Archer noted that not only were dormitory students already eating food from the farm and developing a better appreciation and taste for vegetables, but also that the school had made G$164,000 (US$ 820) in the last two months from the sale of excess vegetables, and used some of the profits to prepare a poultry farm and bought broilers. She emphasized the project’s contribution to the integration of agricultural sciences with other subjects such as mathematics, business and health education, and expressed her commitment to making sure that the project “lives on”.

The Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) is expected to conduct training in business and marketing soon and will integrate marketing into the school’s business studies curriculum.

Based on the experiences from this pilot project, the PAHO/WHO, FAO and UNICEF developed a three year project proposal for the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund to expand this concept of innovative school farm and integrated science curriculum and health promotion to the 10 hinterland dormitory schools in regions 1, 7, 8 and 9.

This project is already drawing much attention from other communities in the region and the village of Parikwarunawa, about half an hour’s drive south of St. Ignatius, is emulating this same innovative farming method with technical support from NAREI.

PAHO/WHO funded the implementation of this project to the extent of about US$19,500 of which 70% were generated through the CIDA project “Improved Health and Increased protection from Communicable Diseases for Women, Children and Excluded Populations in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

For more information on this project please contact:

Dr. Oudho Homenauth, Chief Executive Officer, NAREI:

Natasha Beerjit, Senior Analyst, GMC:

Adrianus Ton Vlugman, Senior Advisor, PAHO/WHO:

Last Updated on Monday, 30 June 2014 16:08

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