Lunch is ready!

 By Simonetta Sandri

Eni is involved in educational interventions with the Integrated Hinda Project (PIH) in Congo, where it works with 10 elementary schools as well as 2 currently under construction (the civil works will be completed in October 2017, at the beginning of the new school year). In 5 of these schools (and soon 6), inviting school canteens have also been built. We went to visit some of these canteens, where we have implemented an interesting pilot project that aims to enrich the daily diet of the children attending them amidst fun, games and laughter while on breaks between lessons. Because fruit and vegetables are good for you. Even more so today when they are zero km products that support local producers…

Children walk to school in the rural areas of Congo: there are no roads or public transport, no yellow or blue school buses, and those who want to go to elementary school even walk up to 7-8 km back and forth every day just to reach them. Every day, without fail. And if one school is 3 km from home, but another is 5 km from home and has a canteen, it is clearly preferred. Better walk a little bit further but have the chance to enjoy a meal that breaks up the hard day’s work surrounded by blackboards, chalks, pencils, numbers and notebooks. The bright colours of sand in their eyes and hearts, under the reflection of the rainbow.
Elementary school students are between 6 and 12 years old, and often families are organized such that the older children take care of the smaller ones; so if the older ones go to school, their brothers and sisters follow them and wait for them to finish their lessons. School becomes a safe and secure place: it is not only for education, but also for care and hospitality. A landing point.
In other cases, the older children stay home to take care of the younger ones and cannot regularly attend school. This is why the second phase of the project included dedicating particular attention to “petite enfance”/”early child development” with the creation of kindergartens. But this is another story…

School and human development in its broadest sense, including education, nutrition and agriculture. These are the key words of the agricultural project that the Integrated Hinda Project (PIH) is pursuing. In the 22 local villages covered by the PIH, 22 Champs Ecoles Paysans (CEP) are envisaged, one per village. The CEPs have been established and taken off in the villages, and are now at different stages of implementation. Today the villages of Kondi-Mbaka and Tchissakata are harvesting the seasonal fruit and vegetable production and have been selected for the pilot project, which aims to promote the nutritional quality of PIH school meals by progressively introducing those fruits and vegetables that are currently lacking in their menus: they are full of vitamins and nutrients, but also support the farmers of the CEPs as an important part of local development.

School and human development in its broadest sense, including education, nutrition and agriculture

This pilot phase was launched over the past few weeks in the school canteens of Loemé-Nangama, Makola and Tchitondi. An impressive 240 kg of purple aubergines from the CEP of Kondi-Mbaka (9300 m2) accompanied salted fish and chicken, rice, and beans: one of the weekly menus traditionally served in the 5 PIH school canteens. In partnership with the NGO International Partnership for Human Development (IPHD), which also supports local institutions on similar projects and the Direction Départementale de l’Enseignement Primaire, Secondaire et de l’Alphabétisation du Kouilou (DDEPSA-K), besides the aubergines the project would soon offer the tasty and fragrant bananas harvested directly on the 1.5 hectare CEP of Tchissakata, in the sub-prefecture of Tchiamba-Nzassi that is immersed in the depths of the ultra-green, lush Mayombe. A shade of emerald green that blends with the blue of the sky.

More than a thousand boys and girls benefited from the enriched menu. In addition to wanting to improve and integrate the children’s diets, this ambitious project aims to support local producers and economy, identify good agricultural practices and create interplay between the various PIH sectors, neighbourhood communities and CATREP – Centre d’Appui Technique et de Ressources Professionnelles – another important component of the Hinda project. In fact, CATREP is a production, research and training centre of the Ministry of Agriculture, and sits on 45 hectares of land. Eni has renovated its buildings and provided basic infrastructures such as a drinking water well; the centre has become a cornerstone of the project. Today Eni is supporting the Ministry of Agriculture to plant new seeds on 3 hectares of land in order to have the complementary production of other non-local fruits and vegetables in autumn (zucchinis, aubergines, cabbages, carrots, bell peppers, watermelons and melons). The production is organic, and the project also includes the creation of the relevant regulatory framework.

There are 95 people (35 women and 60 men) currently working on the farm who are divided into 7 groups: they are rigorously and compliantly organized into 7 cooperatives that are recognized by and registered with the Ministry of Agriculture. A step towards modern agriculture that is able to create both income and employment. It is bringing real human development a la Amartya Sen to people who are investing in the project and putting in great effort towards the October harvest, of which half of the proceeds will go to the group. Working towards income and autonomy. Next year, all this will reach the menus of all the project’s school canteens, offering them the most comprehensive and complete meals. Above all, provoking them to think about future market outlets that are the result of skills and their improvement. The project, in fact, envisages an important synergy between education and local economic growth. It could also be a pilot for the country’s overall scenario: a real and effective model for improving children’s diets, but also stimulating local production and economy. Our ultimate goal is to have the model scaled up by the Ministry of Education and Agriculture.
While Medard helps a farmer carry aubergines from the Kondi-Mbaka field to the school, Nelcha welcomes the students into the canteen and Abel serves them meals. And the story continues.

The path from the field to the canteen…

Fruits and vegetables, a long journey:
how to harvest them, weigh them, transport them, prepare them, cook them, and have the students eat them….

SEE MORE: Kitchen revolution by Simona Manna

about the author
Simonetta Sandri