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Learning gardens in arid and semi-arid (ASAL) schools that grow drought resistant crops and teach their preparation in school kitchens.

Learning gardens in ASAL schools that teach how to grow drought resistant crops and serve them through Food for Education feeding programs.

Photo of Wawira Njiru
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Currently, 20 million people desperately need food assistance across four countries: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria. Famine in South Sudan alone has left 100,000 people on the verge of starvation and almost 5 million people, more than 40% of the country's population, in need of urgent assistance.

On 10th February 2017, the government of Kenya declared a national drought emergency with 2.7 million people facing starvation and 357,285 children and pregnant and lactating mothers acutely malnourished. 

Most small scale farmers have over-dependence on maize and beans to meet their household needs and with unpredictable weather patterns and prolonged dry periods, they are the most affected. Although many drought resistant crops such as cassava, cowpeas, pigeon peas, millet and sorghum exist, many families in Kenya still struggle due to lack of information, poor access to inputs, lack of conservation agriculture know-how and failure to let go of old practices. 

School populations are especially low in arid and semi-arid areas and incentives such as school feeding programmes have been shown to increase the number of school going children especially leading to more girls going to school.

In North Eastern Kenya, one of the country's driest regions, a girl is 15 times more likely to be out of school than a girl in Nairobi the country’s capital. The primary education net enrolment rate is 36.3% compared to 93% the national average while the girls completion rates in primary school is 25% compared to 75% the national average. The secondary education net attendance is 2.2% compared to 12.5% the national average.

School based learning gardens provide the opportunity for children to learn how to grow drought resistant crops through conservation agriculture techniques such as minimal tillage, minimal water consumption and crop rotation. Preparation of these foods will then be taught in school kitchens and students will have the opportunity to taste them during school feeding programs aiming to change traditional diet preferences that favour crops which fail in droughts. 

This model will ensure that communities not only benefit from nutritious meals during emergency response periods but instead, organic and fresh food will be available for consumption throughout the year. As these foods are drought resistant, they will be cheaper and easier for schools to maintain. Currently, many schools especially in arid and semi-arid areas are not connected to consistent water sources and therefore do not invest in gardens or any form of agriculture for food or income generation. 

We envision that these are practices will be replicated by the whole community by giving samples and lessons to parents on how to grow drought resistant crops through the learning gardens.  This will ensure sustainability and expand our reach.

Explain your idea

With the continued adverse effects of climate change, rising global temperatures and extensive and more frequent droughts, millions of people are food insecure with children adversely and especially affected. On 10th February 2017, the government of Kenya declared a national drought emergency with 2.7 million people facing starvation and 357,285 children and pregnant and lactating mothers acutely malnourished. Changing weather patterns, longer and more severe dry seasons are at the heart of continued food insecurity and this strain in resources is often a catalyst for violence. Pastoralists’ communities who often live in areas that are hit hardest during droughts are prone to conflict especially over water wells for livestock and access to food. Food insecurity not only breeds violence but limits prosperity because inadequate nutrition leads to stunting in children (permanently impaired cognitive and physical development) and a malnourished population that is unable to work and contribute to the economy fully. A hazard analysis of arid and semi-arid(ASAL) regions of Kenya found that drought&famine and war&conflict are 2 of the top 4 hazards identified by communities living in ASALs. Water scarcity, poverty and low educational levels were described as the key vulnerability factors. Over-reliance on certain crops can lead to food insecurity especially, if the crops are not drought resistant. During this drought season in Kenya, maize production in the coastal areas decreased by 99 per cent compared to the long term average. Maize is the staple food in Kenya and over-reliance on maize has contributed to the current food insecurity. Although many drought resistant crops such as cassava, cowpeas, pigeon peas, millet and sorghum exist, many families in Kenya still don't eat them due to lack of information, poor access to inputs, lack of conservation agriculture know-how and failure to let go of old practices. With the Kenyan diet largely based around maize, we believe that changing this could help in reducing the adverse effects of droughts on nutrition. By teaching communities to grow drought resistant crops and introducing these foods to their diet, we would reduce reliance on crops that easily fail in harsh weather conditions. Palatability can easily be changed in children by introducing foods at an early age. Our idea is to create learning gardens in schools that teach growing varieties of drought resistant crops and introducing these foods to their diets through school feeding programs. Learning gardens create a fun and interactive space to teach students and their parents how to grow their own food and by incorporating these foods into our school feeding programs will enable children to learn how to prepare and taste the foods. School feeding programs build around sustainable agriculture will lead to better nutrition outcomes, increased school attendance in areas where school drop outs are high, leading to better education outcome

Who Benefits?

ASALs make up more that 83% of Kenya and are home to approximately 4 million pastoralists who constitute more that 10% of Kenya’s population. ASAL populations experience the lowest development indicators and the highest incidence of poverty in the country. The contain 18 of the 20 poorest constituencies in Kenya. Lack of food severely impacts school attendance rates and increases school drop out rates. In the 2010-2011 droughts, among the 7 counties most affected, the gross secondary school enrolment ratio was 16 per cent for girls and 23 per cent for boys compared to a national level of 49 per cent and 54 per cent respectively. Our idea benefits children in schools ASALs and will improve education outcomes and nutrition indicators. In a country where 26% of children are stunted and 40% suffer from malnutrition, particularly protein energy malnutrition, we will introduce protein rich foods such as cowpeas and serve them through school feeding programs leading to better nutrition.

How is your idea unique?

The government of Kenya in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) have supplementary feeding programs in ASALs that have acted as motivation from time to time for children to go to school but dropout rates skyrocket when distribution periods end. The Food for Education model banks on the learners taking part in the solution, owning the activities and having a continuous production cycle through school kitchens that teach preparation of crops grown and provides opportunities for the students to taste the food. Having the learning gardens within the schools exposes them to the wider community and ensures the learners’ daily routine includes care and management of the crops hence ownership . As these foods are drought resistant, they require minimal water consumption and therefore will be cheaper and easier for schools to maintain. With the affected communities tired of the over-reliance on relief food, the willingness to learn and adapt new practices is high.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

I am the founder and Executive Director of Food for Education a non for profit organisation that works to improve the lives of vulnerable children in public schools through sustainable feeding programs. I have a degree in Nutrition and Food Sciences. I work with a team of 13 who have the human resource capacity that includes nutrition expertise, vast experience in implementing school feeding programs, know-how and experience in agriculture and agronomy practices all capped with humanitarian drive. All our staff are local with strong community connections and years of lived experiences and creating impact in food insecure communities. Food for Education is also currently successfully implementing a previous OpenIDEO challenge (Amplify challenge 4) and within 9 months of prototypes and successful piloting has increased beneficiaries by 600% using human centred design. With such a track record, we continue to focus on increasing our impact and ensure that more children have access to sustainable, nutritious meals in schools.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Audrey Bracey Deegan

Eric Won 
We would love to collaborate with you since nutrition is an important part of our effort. Check us out HarvestLink: Using Mobile Technology to Address Global Hunger Great idea. Audrey, Eric and Chantale

Photo of Wawira Njiru

Hey Audrey Bracey Deegan thank you! Love your idea too. It sounds like what Mfarm was doing in Kenya. I would be interested to learn where you have prototyped this and how it's worked so far? Also, what the challenges have been?
Looking forward to learning from you!

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