Schools against malnutrition

Adrienne Villaruel

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What role do schools play in ensuring food and nutrition security among young children?

SCHOOL GARDENER. Mang Conrad has been a school gardener for over 15 years. He not only tends to vegetable gardens, but he also imparts his knowledge to young students. Photo by Adrienne Villaluna/

MANILA, Philippines – Conrado “Mang Conrad” Salazar was about to get fired at 56. 

He discovered that he might lose his job as a utility personnel in Kalubkob Elementary school of Cavite. His job involved tending to the school’s vegetable gardens. The old gardener was dismayed.

He had been in service for over 15 years. Although part of non-teaching staff, Mang Conrad contributed to teaching students a thing or two about gardening through the Gulayan sa Paaralan program. (READ: Fighting malnutrition with veggies

He could not imagine what would become of the school’s vegetable garden without him.

Sabi ko nga ho kung ako’y aalis dito paano na kaya ang iskul? Wala nang magtatanim dito,” he said. (I said, if I were to leave, what would happen to the school? No one will plant here.)

Luckily, he was exempted from the rationalization program of the Department of Education (DepEd). He was able to keep his beloved job. Conrado said that he will remain a school gardener until he turns 60.

“Noong nag-iistart kami dito kung anu-ano lang ang tinanim namin. Kung pechay, pechay lang lahat yan. Kung talong, talong lang yan. Pero nung nakapag-seminar kami sa IIRR ginawa na rin naming marami ang dapat itanim sa gulayan,” he said.

(When we were starting, we planted whatever was available. If we planted pechay, it was all pechay. If it was eggplant, it was all eggplant. But when we attended IIRR’s seminar, we learned to plan other crops.)

IIRR stands for the International Institute or Rural Reconstruction, a non-governmental organization which fights poverty through community empowerment.

Mang Conrad believes that school gardening is a step toward eradicating malnutrition. It also helps children develop healthy lifestyles.

Agri, education, nutrition

FOOD SECURITY. IIRR believes that schools can help in ensuring food and nutrition security through school gardening, feeding programs, and education. Photo by Danielle Factora/

IIRR is based in Cavite, but its services extend even beyond it.  

It introduced an integrated approach to address food and nutrition security which links bio-intensive gardening, supplementary feeding, and nutrition education to public schools. (READ: Davao goes green)

“Eradicating malnutrition is DepEd’s number one goal in putting up the Gulayan sa Paaralan program,” Dr Romeo Endraca, education supervisor of the province of Cavite, explained. DepEd, with support from IIRR, developed Gulayan sa Paaralan to its advantage.

Sustainable gardening and agriculture are parts of the school curriculum.

Schools versus malnutrition

There are 27 pilot schools in Cavite trained by IIRR.

These schools were chosen with the criteria of having adequate space to put up vegetable gardens. These schools also have a high percentage of malnutrition cases.

The schools were then trained in school garden management. Appropriate methods like improving soil fertility and addressing the effects brought about by climate change to gardens were taught to them.

INDIGENOUS VEGGIES. These vegetables are known to be nutritious, affordable, and more resilient to climate conditions. Photo by Danielle Factora/

Before, they merely planted whatever crop that was available, but now they have utilized their agricultural knowledge to plant various crops, including indigenous vegetables – which are known to be nutritious and more resilient to climate conditions.

“It was because of everyone’s eagerness to apply what they have learned from the trainings of the IIRR that drove us to push through with our gardens,” said Cristina Panganiban, principal of the Kalubkob elementary school.

Despite having only 7 teachers in school, the school managed to work together. According to Panganiban, they shared the work among themselves.

Kids and veggies

Each school identifies its number of severely wasted students, with help from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST).

Wasted children are those who are too thin for their height.

In one school alone, FNRI already identified 80 severely wasted children from grades 1-3.

Once identified by the FNRI, these children undergo a 120-day supplementary feeding program. The supplementary feeding of indigenous vegetables-based recipes was conducted from July to December 2013.

One of the biggest challenges of the supplementary feeding approach is to get children to eat vegetables. “Eating vegetables is a challenge for children all over the world,” Dr Julian Gonsalvez, IIRR Senior Program Advisor, said.

To address this issue, teachers have learned to adopt different recipes proposed by the IIRR to get more children to eat vegetables. Nutrition education sessions were also conducted among parents to educate them on proper food preparation and proper feeding.  

Continuing the fight

TOGETHER. Schools, together with parents and students, commit to work together in their fight against malnutrition. Photo by Danielle Factora/

Despite testimonies of teachers and parents saying that there have been positive changes in the children’s health and performance, concrete results have yet to be seen. Presently, all results are being consolidated.

The IIRR-sponsored project is almost coming to an end. This means that schools will have to operate independently and support their own causes.

Fortunately, some of the principals of the Cavite pilot schools committed to continue with the program. They said they will push through with the help of their school canteen cooperative, teachers, students, and parents.

Above anything else, a positive attitude is what they mostly needed.

IIRR is currently still strengthening its programs among Cavite schools.

Gonzalves stressed that good habits are formed early among children. These habits are formed at home and most likely will also be formed in school.

“The nutrition problems that children face when they are young, there’s nothing you can do about it later when they are grown up. We have to address them when they are very young,” he added. –

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