School Meals and Agroecology Learning Circle Festival held by NESFAS at Laitsohpliah

Shillong, March 31: NESFAS organised an event on“School Meals Festival cum Agroecology Learning Circle (ALC) Cluster Sharing” at Laitsohpliah, East Khasi Hills. As many as 13 communities from Laitkroh and Shella Blocks participated in the one-day event that showcased school meal platters and listened to grassroots voices of ALC groups of the participating communities.

The program kick-started with an exhibition of the school meals competition and showcased plattersthat had been prepared by five schools from LaitkrohBlocks, viz. Nongtraw RCLP School, Subakalai SSA LP School, Laitsohpliah RCLP UP School, Dewlieh Govt. LP School and Mawmihthied Govt. LP School.

The competition was conducted as part of the “Linking Schools to Agrobiodiversity for improved Diets, Nutrition and Livelihoods” initiative of NESFAS which aims at increasingaccess of school children to healthy, nutritious, and diverse balanced diets through school meals.

Dewlieh Govt. LP School won the competition with their excellent demonstration of an innovative school meal platter focusing on meeting the nutritional needs of the children.

The event also highlighted the grassroots work of ALC farmers who are part of the “Empowering Indigenous Communities through Agroecology Learning Circles (ALCs) for resilient, integrated and innovative natural resource management” innovation project initiated byNESFAS and with funding from MBMA as part of an Innovation Grant under the World Bank aided “Community Led Landscape Management Project (CLLMP)”, for supporting the scaling up of innovative practices to enable communities to better manage natural resources.

Mr. Pius Ranee, Executive Director, NESFAS, shared about the diversity of food species that existed in rural Meghalaya and called upon everyone present to work towards embellishing the food culture of the state – citing that the school meal platter display had been thought of for the same purpose.

He also shared his delight in how school children are now more appreciative of the local food system and praised the schools that have come up with innovative recipes for their school meals.

He extended his thanks to the ALC members for their contribution and shared that it is NESFAS’ aim to work with more schools in Meghalaya for the School Meals initiative so that the government can also recognise the effort of this initiative.

Ms. RilangNongrum, of Subakalai School, Laitsohpliah, then gave a brief explanation ofthe different kinds of food that were displayed during the midday meal. While praising NESFAS for helping schools garner awareness on how to better utilize the midday meals programs.

She added that the midday meal at the school now consists of 5 food groups thanks to the variety of vegetables they grow in their school gardens. She also pointed out that delicious mid-day meals served at the school have made children attend classes more regularly.

Mr.CheerfilliusKhongngain, a school teacher from Dewlieh expressed his gratitude to NESFAS for the initiative while stressing that the onus is now on the communities to preserve the huge diversity that exists in the region.

Mrs. P Rynjah, Block Mission Coordinator, Laitkroh Block, expressed her pleasant surprise at the talent of the school children and the ALC groups of different communities.

While admitting that she was attending a NESFAS event for the first time, she voiced her appreciation and encouragement for the organisation’s initiatives;“I shall pass this message to all the concerned government departments so that they can include more items in midday meals and other necessary things,” she added.

Mrs.TionaSawkmie, a member of the LadmawphlangALC,talked about her experience with how ALCshave shaped and brought out the speciality of local farmers. While stating that her ALC group has focused on making natural manure, she shared her aspirations of working together with other ALC groups in concocting biopesticides for pests.

This was also followed by an award ceremony for the Best performing ALC and Community Facilitator (CF) of Laitkroh and ShellaCluster and the prize distribution of the school meals competition.

Dr. Michelle Swer, who is based in the UK, expressed that the event had been an eye-opening experience for her;“It is very important that children eat good and healthy food from a young age and today I can see that children here are eating alot of nutritious food that is available in the gardens.”

Mr.Phrang Roy, Founding Chairpersonof NESFAS, shared his elation at seeing the work of the schools and the ALCs. He praised the participating communities for their exemplary work and conveyed that NESFAS will always follow the knowledge of the communities in bringing change.

“We must strengthen the biodiversity of nature so that we can be free from climate change and indigenous farming is pivotal for securing the future we aspire,” said Mr.Phrang Roy.

Mr. Nestar Kharmawphlang, Chairman, NESFAS, in his conclusion thanked each and everyone who participated in the event, especially the 5 schools.  The event was followed by a scrumptious lunchprepared by Local Chef Benny PaiaDondorWankhar with local ingredients inspired by traditional recipes.

Chef Benny expressed that it was a joyful moment for him to showcase his work and collaborate with the communities as he has always wanted to promote and modernise traditional recipes.

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