Ajman: When many think of the UAE as a desert country with arid land, students of an Indian school group here have created history by learning farming in their schools and harvesting more than 7.4 tonnes of vegetables over the past five years.
Having taught farming as part of the CBSE curriculum for the last ten years, three schools under the Ajman-based Habitat Schools have released a handbook on farming at the Sharjah International Book Fair. The International Indian School under the group was the first school in the UAE to incorporate farming into its curriculum way back in 2011, according to Shamsu Zaman C.T, managing director of Habitat Schools.
“We provided a new model of education in a culturally inclusive, technologically effective and ecologically sensitive way,” he told Gulf News. “We incorporated farming and coding into our curriculum to teach our students things that are essential for their future. They are going to live in a digital economy and need to learn evolving things about the digital world. At the same time, they should be close to nature and know what sustains our lives in this world — agriculture.”
Cultivating a love for nature, care for fellow living organisms, inducing respect for the labour expended to produce the food we eat — these objectives have motivated the Habitat farming programme, added Shamsu.
How it is taught
Prathibha M Komath, the farming teacher at the Al Jurf campus of Habitat Schools, said farming lessons were incorporated as part of work education under the co-scholastic areas in the CBSE curriculum.
“It is not a core subject, but it is compulsory,” she said. “We have introduced farming from grade three to eight. All our students are very much interested in farming, especially in practical activities.”
A graduate in agriculture from Kerala Agricultural University in India, Prathibha said the school has managed to cultivate 24 types of vegetables despite the climatic and soil conditions here posing challenges. “We have cultivated corn and grapes too,” she said. “Students get farming classes once a fortnight. During summer, we focus more on the theory part and outdoor activities are limited to the massive greenhouse where farming is done under temperature and humidity-controlled environment.”
Involved in every step of farming
Apart from traditional farming method in soil, students are taught hydroponic and aquaponic farming methods as well. “In theory classes, they learn about tissue culture, genetically modified crops etc also,” said Prathibha.
From land preparation to harvesting, students are involved in every step of farming, which also include irrigation and plant protection. Once harvested, the crops are sold to students’ parents and school faculty members and the proceeds go to charity.
There are as many as 2,272 trees and 1173 plants on Habitat School campuses, the group said. “We have 75 species of trees. Most of the plants are medicinal, flowering or shade-giving ones,” explained Prathibha.
In 2019, a total of 10,000 students from the three campuses took part in a ‘Seed to Plant’ initiative to grow saplings from seeds and broke the Guinness World Record for the largest distribution of saplings. As many as 9,371 Morninga, Sesbina and Ghaf plants that grew as part of the initiative were handed over to the Agricultural Department of Ajman Municipality to plant them across the city.
Apart from this, students planted another 39,826 saplings at their homes in the UAE and home countries as part of Habitat School Summer Assignments from 2018 to 2021. Habitat students also marked the 40 years of His Highness Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ajman, by planting 40 saplings at two parks in Ajman. With the tree planting experience, the school group is now preparing another book on the trees on its campuses, Prathibha said.
Conceptualising the book
Meanwhile, Ahmed Bin Rakkad Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, and Sheikh Sultan bin Saqer bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, vice-chairman of Ajman Media City and board member of Ajman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, released the handbook on farming by the Habitat Schools at Sharjah International Book Fair.
First copies of the books were presented to Vellasami and Shahmad, the farming staff in Habitat Schools.
Dr N.P. Ashley, who conceptualised the book, said the book details on agriculture, farming, soil, water, tools, organic farming, natural farming, farming in the UAE, the importance of learning farming in schools along with the course design for grades from third to eighth and chronicles the Habitat School experience.
‘Farming as part of the curriculum’
“This book is especially relevant in the case of expatriates in the Gulf as both communication with farmers and access to farming areas are not within the regular flat-office-mall route of an expatriate. So crop calendars, details of different options in farming and basic ideas about different kinds of farming are quite useful for expatriate farming enthusiasts.
“Habitat Schools consider it a duty to present the lessons from our research and the experience to students and farming enthusiasts around us. There are many schools doing gardening and growing some vegetables, but there is scope for them to join Habitat Schools in teaching farming as part of the curriculum,” Ashley added.
Students share their experience
Anisa Ismail Mohamed, a grade 12 student from the Al Jurf campus, said she had learnt a lot from farming at the school. “It has made me appreciate the work and care put into farming. It is truly fascinating to plant a seed, watch it grow into a beautiful plant and bear fruit and flowers. Farming has been and will continue to be an important part of the community and society, leaning about which has given me immense pleasure,” said Anisa.
Lauren Rinil, a grade eight student at the Al Tallah campus, said she was very excited to be in Habitat School because she liked gardening from the beginning.
“But with limited spaces, I cannot pursue my passion at home. When I joined Habitat School, I gained firsthand experience about farming on a bigger level. We have a farming period every week where our teacher takes us to the farm and from planting seeds to harvesting, we have seen all the different stages in a plant’s growth. We celebrate the harvest festival on a grand scale with the participation of our parents every year.”
Meeval Mary, another eighth grader, said: “Farming is a very important feature of our school and we are very happy that on one hand we are learning artificial intelligence and on the other, we are connected to our roots. We are a lucky generation to be connected to our roots while studying the subjects of the 21st century. The school gives us the opportunity to be a part of farming and stay connected to our environment and surroundings. Farming facilitates a bond with nature and its elements.”