Beyond School Gardens: Permaculture Food Forests Enhance Ecosystem Services While Achieving Education for Sustainable Development Goals
Considering that over half of the world population now lives in urban areas and the trend of increasing urban populations is projected to continue, cities are seeking sustainable solutions to the ecological challenges of development. Food forests are being recognized for the wealth of ecosystem services they provide, including carbon sequestration, air filtration, water regulation, reduced heat effects, and enhanced human well-being. In addition, to address the food security of rising urban populations, solutions such as community gardens have increased in recent years. Coupling community gardens with forestry through food forestry gardening adds food production to the multitude of ecosystem services provided by food forests.
School gardens in schools offer the added benefits of providing ecological learning environments, educating future populations about sustainable food choices, and helping to combat the rising levels of malnutrition in children. As part of the movement towards green schoolyards, school gardens offer a more ecologically diverse alternative to more traditional land use in schools, such as green desert or bare grounds, asphalt and playgrounds. Due to their proven success, there now exist over 12,000 school gardens in the Uganda (MoES, 2017). Nevertheless, there are shortfalls with regards to school gardens. School gardens often plant raised beds with annual crops requiring extensive maintenance and inputs while adding little with regards to ecosystem services over the long run. In addition, the school garden sustainability curriculum has been limited in comparison to the breadth of learning objectives as defined by the UNESCO Global Action Program (GAP) on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (UNESCO, 2017).
Leveraging the movement for green schoolyards and school gardens in the Uganda, food forests in schools could provide essential ecosystem services to school environments while enhancing opportunities for ESD. While some studies have evaluated the benefits of food forests, further quantification of key ecosystem services would address assumptions regarding their ecological value as a community garden in a school environment. While there do exist some examples of food forests in schools in Uganda pioneered by Schools and Colleges Permaculture Program (SCOPE-Uganda), they are relatively new and rare in comparison to raised bed gardens. In addition, the curriculum has not yet been linked to GAP ESD.
It could very well be that food forests offer a unique application for teaching sustainability. However, whether or not the benefits of food forests outweigh the costs as compared to raised bed gardens that are more commonly found in schools needs to be evaluated. Due to the importance of food production to school gardens, it is imperative that food forests in schools are also able to produce comparable quantities of fruits and vegetables. In addition, if the cumulative environmental benefits of transforming school green deserts or bare grounds into food forests are found to be significant, this could be another driver for establishing food forests in schools.