Get enlightened upon the importance of school feeding programs to every communities in the Philippines. 

By Aubregyn Ancheta

The Department of Education (DepEd) has been conducting school-based feeding programs (SBFP) since 2010 as part of the government’s initiatives against malnutrition and the promotion of good health and proper nutrition to students. Through its regional offices, the DepEd identifies students nationwide who are malnourished. The DepEd’s SBFP budget is ₱15 per child for food and ₱1 per child for operational expenses, multiplied by 120 feeding days, adding up to about ₱1,920 per child.

Students from Cauringan Elementary School partake of ginisang ampalaya with egg as their meal for the day which is part of their school-based feeding program.

Marcelo Dela Cruz, a farmer from Pozorrubio, Pangasinan, planted Jadeite bitter gourd for the first time as a trial with only a 50 plant population alongside his other regular crops, with help and monitoring by Known-You marketing technician Richard Ancheta. Dela Cruz grew the variety successfully, and the first fruits he harvested totaled 19 kilograms.

Dela Cruz brought the fruits of Jadeite with the produce from his other regular crops to his stall at the public market, and he was able to sell these easily. Amazed by the plant’s prolificacy, he has been harvesting fruits almost every day, even if the population of his plants is small.

Ancheta then asked if Dela Cruz would like to help the teachers of Cauringan Elementary School in Sison, Pangasinan by providing fresh fruits for the school’s feeding program, since Dela Cruz only sold his produce on weekends.

Dela Cruz was initially skeptical: bitter gourd (also known as bitter melon and “ampalaya”) for children? “I hope they will like it,” he said. It’s well known that the bitterness the crop is known for is unappealing to both adults and children born in an era where they are used to junk and fast food. But its health properties, particularly for diabetics, add to its appeal. Moreover, it has also been suggested through studies that bitter melon is beneficial in the treatment of chronic blood pressure and helps slow down viruses like HIV.

Although there is no standard recommended daily portion for bitter gourd, it can be eaten according to one’s preferences. Some people eat a small portion everyday while others have it as a meal once a week. Because studies have shown it has many health benefits, bitter melon is considered to be the fruit of longevity. 

Ancheta then brought the fruits Dela Cruz grew and helped the teachers prepare the children’s meal for the day, which was the ginisang ampalaya with egg and adobong sitaw. The children liked the dishes, and enjoyed eating every slice of the ampalaya served to them, because the Jadeite variety is known to be less bitter and more “taste bud friendly.” Jadeite is a unique variety of Known You Seed Philippines that ha a plant maturity of 5060 days, an average weight of 450-600 grams, and a dark green color with very visible spikes.

With varieties like Jadeite, it is easier to motivate children to eat healthy and appreciate what “health is wealth” means, helping them overcome malnutrition. The SBFP is targeting the restoration of at least 70% of beneficiaries to their normal nutritional status and the improvement of class attendance by 85-100%. The effectiveness of school feeding programs have been noted by many experts, and can “[boost] enrollment, attendance, and academic performance.” The government is currently working with the private sector and individuals to promote good health and proper nutrition to the youth and their parents. 

Jadeite Bitter Gourd is a product of Known You Seed Philippines, Inc. For inquiries and orders, call 0917.320.1689 or 0999.968.0630; fax (075) 632.1785; or email kyp@ knownyou.com. “Like” their Facebook page at www.facebook. com/kyp168.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2017 issue.