From the classroom to the garden 

A teacher at St Maria Gorreti Mpugwe Primary School Mpugwe inspects his pupils working on their vegetable gardens. 

What you need to know:

  • Francis Nsubuga Sematimba says he wanted to really engage the pupils in a discussion on how food grows and sustainable farming by making them part of that whole process. Through the farm, he adds, the pupils build a real connection and relationship with the world in which they live. If children do not have this relationship, if they do not feel the soil in their hands, then it does not matter to them. They will not care where their food comes from.

For Mr Francis Nsubuga Sematimba, headmaster of St Maria Gorreti Primary School, Mpugwe in Masaka District, formal education that does not provide practical skills to learners is just a narration. 
“When the child leaves school and all that he remembers are mere stories about the struggle for Uganda’s independence, tall mountains, and long rivers, such a child is bound to find it hard to fit in society as a self-reliant and useful citizen,” he says. “All that they got from school was just narration which they are very likely to forget soon.”


Practical farming skills 
As headmaster of a Universal Primary Education (UPE) school, Sematimba insists on giving practical farming skills to all the children so that when they leave school they know how to grow their own food and to earn money out of farming even when they do not have large pieces of land. 

His school gives the children the skills to carry out farming in a small area. 
“In some schools the teachers simply draw pictures of onions and tomatoes for the children to learn. But the child learns better if he or she is practically taught how to grow the onions and the tomatoes. The pupil plants them and regularly inspects the garden, touching and smelling them as they grow. Such a pupil learns more about the crops than the other one who only sees pictures in the classroom,” says Sematimba.

A teacher at St Maria Gorreti Mpugwe Primary School Mpugwe inspects his pupils working on their vegetable gardens. 

Crops at school 
The entire school compound at St Maria Gorreti Primary School Mpugwe is decorated with small crop gardens, some of them as small as one square metre. The school has a fairly large school garden but due to the long Covid-19 lockdowns in the country it had turned into solid bush and, as Sematimba explained, the effort to clear the bush had just started. When Seeds of Gold visited it was school garden time for the P7 Class and the children had removed their school uniform and were wearing different clothes for work.

Training pupils 
The teachers teach the children how to collect the soil and put it into some containers such as used gunny bags or baskets and then plant crops such as maize, onions, rosemary, carrots, sukuma wiki, tomatoes, and several others. 
The children also learn about natural environment protection by collecting waste material such as plastic bottles, metallic bottle tops, old car tyres and putting them to good use, under their slogan, “No waste to waste.” For example, empty plastic water bottles are used to barricade the heaps of soil on which the children plant some vegetables in the school compound. Old car tyres are used to protect the soil on which the children grow vegetables. “With increasing urbanisation, we are aware that many of our children will be living in towns with hardly anywhere to grow crops,” Sematimba says. “But here we have taught them that it is possible to grow vegetables in a small garden made of soil placed in a basket or a gunny bag.”

The children are taught how to prepare and to pot tree seedlings because the school strongly encourages tree planting. 
They have been taught to prepare potted tree seedlings for trees such as musizi, jack fruit, pawpaw, mango, ensaali, cariandra, muvule, moringa, and Robusta Coffee among others.
“Some of the children can now raise money earned from the sale of potted tree seedlings to meet some of their day-to-day needs,” Sematimba told Seeds of Gold.
“Many of the children have transferred the skills to their respective homes where they have also established small vegetable gardens and planted trees,” says Sematimba. 

Benefits of the farm 
Sematimba went on to disclose that some of the money obtained from the sale of vegetables and potted tree seedlings at the school is used to supplement the cost of maize flour used to make porridge for the children’s lunch. 

The vegetables also improve the teachers’ lunch which is prepared right at the school. “It is fine to talk to the pupils about the nutritional value of vegetables but it is a lot better when you show them how to produce the vegetables and make them readily available to them,” he said.
Margaret Nalukenge, one of the parents of the children at the school told Seeds of Gold, “For several months now we have not bought any vegetables because my two daughters learnt how to produce sukuma wiki, onions and nakati right on our compound.” She further reveals that she sometimes sells some sukuma wiki at Shs100 each and earning a bit of money to buy some fish for the family.
 Alex Mufutikiza, one of the teachers at the school, says that he too has transferred the skills to his home and that for several months he and his wife who is also a teacher have not been spending any money on vegetables.

The pupils of St Maria Gorreti Primary School Mpugwe in Masaka at work in their gardens. 

Organic manure 
The school also teaches children the importance of using organic manure. 
“The grass used for mulch in the school compound gardens is got from the wetland in the valley,” Sematimba explains.
 “So when we teach the children the importance of protecting the wetlands we believe that they understand it better since they realise that the wetland is a good source of grass for mulching.” 
He also discloses that all the urine from the boys’ toilets is trapped and stored in containers and later applied on the crops as manure. The school has a pupil population of some Shs650, about half of whom are boys.

However, Sematimba who studied agriculture in secondary school before going to college says he has two pressing challenges. “Agriculture is not only about growing crops,” he says. “We should be teaching the children about livestock keeping. They need the skills but we do not have things such as poultry keeping buildings or the appropriate housing for dairy cows, goats, and pigs,” he adds. Ideally the children should learn the importance of keeping livestock in farming. 
The animals and birds are a good source of organic manure which is used to keep the soil fertile. The other challenge is lack of water for irrigation. 
“Sometimes we lose our crops due to long droughts. We have two rainwater tanks at the school but our children use the water for drinking and regular hand washing. 

Yet we have a lot of buildings whose roof tops could be used to get all the rainwater we need and which could be stored in a large water reservoir and used for irrigation and livestock keeping,” he notes. 
The school has an affiliation with a local NGO, Masaka District Land Care (MADLAC), which, besides other soil and natural environment conservation efforts has undertaken to plant trees “the size of Wales.” Barbra Davies Quy from Wales in the UK belongs to the tree planting organisation known as The Size of Wales explained the meaning of the phrase. She said that Wales is about two million hectares and when the phrase --- the size of Wales – is used, the implication is that the target is to plant trees all over such a large area.

The pupils of St Maria Gorreti Mpugwe Primary School at work in one of the vegetable gardens in the school compound.Photos/Michael J Ssali.

 On Women’ International Day this year the school hosted the celebrations at which the size of Wales, and MADLAC officially joined hands with International Tree Foundation (ITF) which supports efforts to plant trees in Mbarara, Kasese, Mbale, Kampala, Mbale, Sironko, Bukedea, Namisindwa, Bulambuli, Bududa and Manafwa, among other districts. T
he function, which was mainly marked with tree planting, also attracted visitors from Kenya and Wales, United Kingdom. 

Tree planting 
The children are taught how to prepare and to pot tree seedlings because the school strongly encourages tree planting. They have been taught to prepare potted tree seedlings for trees such as musizi, jack fruit, pawpaw, mango, ensaali, cariandra, muvule, moringa, Robusta Coffee among others.

Lessons on farm 
The teachers teach the children how to collect the soil and put it into some containers like used gunny bags or baskets and then plant crops such as maize, onions, rosemary, carrots, sukuma wiki, tomatoes, and several others. The children also learn about natural environment protection by collecting waste material such as plastic bottles, metallic bottle tops, old car tires and putting them to good use, under their slogan, “No waste to waste.”
 

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