The Food and Agricultural Organization is funding a $385,000, twenty-two month project to assist the government with designing and testing a garden-based learning programme for primary schools grades one to six.
Minister of Education, Youth, Sport and Culture the Hon. Carl Bethel said the implementation of the projects and the signing of their agreements are timely in that the Ministry and the Department are discussing programmes that would advance the education system and by extension the country.
Mr. Bethel explained that recent global events, the emergence of food shortages and the rising prices of staple such as corn, wheat, rice and other agricultural products now necessities a renewed focus upon food production at the national level and the effective use of available land.
“The rising average age of registered farmers and the reduced numbers of such farmers,” he said, “is a dire warning sign to Bahamians that we are failing to optimise the production potential of our land, and consequently are becoming more and more helpless in the face of global developments.
He added that governments throughout the world are increasing emphasis on and allocating additional resources toward the further growth and development of the Agriculture Industry.
“It is envisaged that this renewal and ongoing focus would improve food security, increase economic growth, increase consumption of fruits, vegetables and ground provisions, contribute to reduction in food importation and hopefully through healthy lifestyle initiatives contribute to the reduction of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity which are causing governments billions of dollars in Health Care.”
Mr. Bethel said it is widely accepted that one of the long term solutions to these growing concerns is the exposure to and education of students in the rudiments of agriculture, its importance to the growth and development of economies and the quality of life that could be derived from the consumption of locally grown and unprocessed agricultural produce.
“The government of The Bahamas through its education system has been and still is promoting and investing in a structured Agricultural Science Programme primarily at the high school level. To-date, the programme is being offered in 29 schools inclusive of three special schools with 14 of which are on New Providence and 15 in the Family Islands.”
He noted that there is a small percentage of primary schools with vegetable beds due to limited land space and untrained agriculture instructors at this level.
The Minister said the School Garden Programme and TeleFood Projects would contribute significantly to the attainment of the government’s goals in addition to:
Improving food security at the community level;
Improving the nutrition of school-aged children;
Fostering an understanding of food production – from farm to table;
Encouraging children to see and use the garden as Living Laboratory;
Reducing the stigma associated with agriculture;
Providing students wishing to pursue Agricultural Science at the junior high school level with the requisite knowledge skills and attitudes; and
Training and upgrading of teachers in Agricultural Science at the primary school level
The Regional FAO Representative Dr. Dustin Campbell said the project is considered a benchmark for the region because it addresses the issues of Non-Communicable Diseases and food security.
Dr. Campbell said in developing this project, the FAO took into consideration concerns expressed by The Bahamas’ government with regards to the increasing prevalence of obesity and chronic nutritional diseases among its population and its socio-economic consequences.
He said recognition was also given to the fact that the government has been supporting several initiatives and programmes aimed at addressing these problems. Dr. Campbell added that the FAO believes there is a potential to increase the impact of government’s efforts.