By Amanda Botes
Imagine Durban with support from Sustainable Cities International has developed a short guideline manual to assist schools with establishing food gardens in Durban, South Africa. Success factors for starting and maintaining a school food garden summarises important factors that need to be taken into account prior to the establishment of a school food garden. While the booklet has been written with schools in Durban in mind, much of the information is applicable to schools in other parts of the world as well.
Whilst there are many successful stories of sustainable school food gardens there are also stories of challenges and failure. Some of the challenges faced by schools are similar to those of any food garden project but there are some factors that are unique to schools, including difficulties in maintaining a garden during holiday periods. Success factors for starting and maintaining a school food garden aims to help schools, and funders, to take into account critical factors that are needed in order for a school food garden to succeed.
Bongumusa Zondo, senior manager of the eThekwini Municipality’s Imagine Durban Project says “Many schools and funders establish school food gardens with the aim that the gardens will provide food for the learners on a continual basis. However, many school gardens do not succeed and it is the aim of this booklet to ensure that school food gardens are sustainable in the long term by directing schools and funders to a set of critical success factors.”
Eight success factors
The booklet targets eight areas that are important in ensuring the success of a school food garden. These factors were developed based on a review of a demonstration school food garden project that was funded by Sustainable Cities International, the MILA (grow) project, in Durban, South Africa; and, a discussion workshop held with officials and organisations that are involved with school food gardens in Durban. Feedback and comments to the booklet were also made from the SCI team in Dar es Salaam. Factors include:
- Making sure that commitment is gained from the start of the initiative by identifying a project champion and involving the school caretaker, teachers and the community. Gaining the support of the school Principal is an important factor to ensure the sustainability of the garden.
- Ensuring that clear responsibilities for maintaining the garden are allocated from the start of the project and that timeslots for gardening are scheduled.
- Making provision for the school holiday period when learners and educators are not on the school premises.
- Preparing an on-going mentoring plan for the garden so that if outside funders or a champion educator leaves the project, or the school, that the garden will continue. Many corporates, donor agencies and local governments see school food gardening as an opportunity to uplift communities and enhance food security and therefore insert funds to help schools start up food gardens. However, these funders are often unable to provide ongoing support and therefore schools need to draw up plans to ensure that their food gardens are sustainable in the long term.
- Involving experts can help schools to understand how to cope with pests and how to improve their yields. Sharing information on the challenges that schools have experienced with other schools can also help to promote learning in school food gardening.
In addition to the success factors, the booklet provides three case studies of schools that have maintained successful school food gardens. Two are from the city of Durban in South Africa, The Birches Pre-Primary, and Sithembile Junior Primary, and a third from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Mikocheni Primary ‘A’ Vocational School. Important contact details in Durban and Dar es Salaam are also found in the booklet so that schools and funders can approach organisations with resources for guidance and support.
Jane McRae CEO for Sustainable Cities International says “Establishing institutional food gardens are a challenge and we feel that this booklet compiled by Imagine Durban with our support is an excellent way to share knowledge on how to improve the success rates of school food gardens in particular. The applicability of lessons from Durban to other cities is illustrated by the inclusion of an example from Dar es Salaam. We are looking forward to sharing this useful resource with other cities in our network.”
The booklet is available to download on the Imagine Durban website and has been printed for distribution in schools in the eThekwini Municipality.