Coordinator’s reflections: From planning to innovation – school gardens for self-sufficiency

As the northern hemisphere is enjoying the longest daylight hours of the year, it is good to reflect back on the sun and warmth we experienced in Accra a few months ago. It was HealthyFoodAfrica’s second live consortium meeting, and once again highlighted the importance of actual face-to-face discussions, field visits to experience the work in progress, and learning with and from each other!

Personally, I was unfortunate enough to have to join the meeting online from my hotel room, due to Covid hitting me just as I had arrived in Ghana. But even that way I got a good sense of the active and motivated engagement of all partners present.

Coordinator's reflections: From planning to innovation – school gardens for self-sufficiency – MicrosoftTeams image 3
A food fair was organised as part of the Accra consortium meeting.

INNOVATION was an important theme of the consortium meeting. More than halfway through the project we are beginning to see interesting and promising results coming out. Many of these are based on the initial plans of consortium partners. But many are also newer: ideas and innovations that have taken shape in the course of the project activities. Not least in response to the challenges that have confronted the global community in recent years, starting with the pandemic and exacerbated by the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Responding to changing realities is a key approach of a Horizon Research and Innovation Action.

As a project, we are also beginning to see the power of knowledge sharing. This was evident in the session to identify innovations emerging from the work. In smaller groups, project participants discussed the core themes of the project in order to identify new ideas, approaches and opportunities. This way of operationalising results for different contexts, in response to the many new challenges, is how we hope to achieve change and impact in the long term.

A key resilience measure is the promotion of self-sufficiency. Especially in a food crisis situation, where both imports and exports are negatively affected, the importance of local production is highlighted. Urban and school gardens can contribute to this. These gardens can also be hubs for community engagement, where local food initiatives and awareness raising take place, and where context-specific solutions are co-created.

School gardens as nutrition education hubs

Here is a snapshot of some findings and recommendations from HealthyFoodAfrica partners on improving local production through school garden initiatives.

Many schools have established school gardens over the years and have used them as spaces to teach children about agriculture and nutrition. However, there is potential to increase the impact of these gardens in the community by broadening the scope and use of the gardens. A starting point is to involve the whole school food environment, including the pupils themselves, but also teachers, cooks, canteen vendors and parents. The next step is to involve other community stakeholders, making the school garden a hub for urban gardening and nutrition action.


FSL Cotonou: School garden
School garden in FSL Cotonou, Benin

The school garden can be used for training on production, where urban gardeners and other experts can share their knowledge to build capacity in small-scale vegetable production, including vertical farming. Families can then adopt the same methods for their home gardens, even where space is limited.

For such a hub to take off, actors need to be able to see the benefits of the action for the community and for themselves. To support this, school garden committees can be established that include parents, gardeners, school staff, professional urban farmers and others who are willing to develop and innovate locally relevant interventions and link these to a broader understanding of community development needs. Once a majority of the community is engaged and supportive, school garden themes can be further developed based on local needs and interests, e.g. planting fruit trees such as mangoes, using trees as windbreaks, water harvesting, vertical farming and aquaponics.

The possibilities are endless. We hope to have a number of concrete examples to share with you as more HFA pilots begin to share their results. Read more about the school and urban garden pilots in our FSL live blog series.

Mila Sell, Coordinator of HealthyFoodAfrica