This story was originally published in April 2020.
The bell rings, signalling that it’s midday at Dano C primary school. Sandrine, a student in CM1 (the fifth year of study), takes her plate to the lunchroom. Cabbage leaves and onion make a mound on her plate and the delicious smell of the vegetables whets her appetite. The 11-year-old says, “With this, I don’t go home anymore [to eat]. So I enjoy reviewing my lessons.”
The 500 students at Dano C primary school benefit from the abundance of their 1,000-square-metre school garden. Dano C is one of 246 schools in the province of Ioba, in the South-West region of Burkina Faso, about 290 kilometres from the capital city, Ouagadougou.
Zoumana Fofana is the principal. He says the garden began about five years ago and helps to improve students’ health and academic performance. He adds that students have been sick less often since the launch of the garden, and that malnutrition has been avoided. In addition, there are virtually no school dropouts thanks to the garden vegetables that supplement the school lunch.
Mr. Fofana calls the school garden the “laboratory where lessons in observation and language are held.” This is one reason why he believes the garden has contributed to good academic results.
Abdon Da is the head nurse of the medical centre that serves students at Dano C primary school, and he agrees with Mr. Fofana. Before the school started the lunch canteen and garden, more than 100 students visited the health centre each month. Youth were afflicted with diarrhea, dysentery, gastric ulcers, and malaria. But since the school started including vegetables from the garden in the lunch, the health centre has seen fewer young clients.
Nurse Da says that vegetables are part of the “protective” food group. They provide the vitamin A and iron that adolescents need.
In most rural families in Burkina Faso, children don’t eat breakfast, so school lunch is important. The plan is to increase the diversity of the meal and insist on a balanced mix of foods and nutrients. These benefits encourage teachers and students to invest time and energy in the school garden.
The students grow tomatoes, onions, lettuce, sorrel, eggplant, and other vegetables. These are mainly eaten by the students themselves. But they also grow lettuce to sell, which provides extra income to cover repairs and other expenses for the garden.
Principal Fofana says it wasn’t easy to start the garden project. He recalls the difficulties: “Some parents didn’t understand the value of the school garden. For them, their child comes to school to learn to read, not to engage in manual labour.”
But he is happy that few parents remain critical of the project. He notes that “the idea of a school garden has been discussed with the partners,” including parent associations, teachers, and the school management committee.
Ouattara Siaka is responsible for garden production. He says the students are organized into groups of 15 to 20 for morning and evening watering, tasks that don’t encroach on learning hours.
All the teachers recognize that the school garden helps with learning, making many subjects more concrete, particularly science, math, and language. Thus, the garden helps achieve academic success and transforms learning from the theoretical to the practical.
Samsoudine Barry is a classmate of Sandrine, but one year ahead, in CM2. He is proud of their garden, saying, “With the gardening, I learn to love working the land. Also, I better understand certain lessons when the teacher takes us to the garden for experiments.”
This article was produced with the support of the Government of Canada through the project “Promoting health, sexual and reproductive rights, and nutrition among adolescents in Burkina Faso (ADOSANTE).” The ADOSANTE project is led by a consortium including Helen Keller International, Marie Stopes-Burkina Faso (MS/BF), Farm Radio International, the Centre d’information de Conseils et de Documentation sur le Sida et la Tuberculeuse (CICDoc), and the Réseau Afrique Jeunesse Santé et Développement (RAJS).