Children combating land degradation:
A rural school creates a nursery

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Region South America
Capital Santiago
Surface area 756,626 km2
Population 16,465,000 inhab.
Population density 22 inhab./km2
Infant mortality rate (per thousand births) 8
Fertility rate (births per woman) 2.0
Population growth rate (per annum) 1.1 %
Life expectancy (female-male) 81 – 75 years
Average temperatures (min./max.) 8.3 / 22.5 ºC
Forest area 21 %


Faced with the phenomenon of land degradation in Chile, an environmental education programme on desertification was implemented in a rural school by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and financed by the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands. The goal of the pilot project was to raise the level of theoretical knowledge and raise environmental awareness in children. Gardening skills were also taught enabling the children to create a nursery on their own. To achieve this, the environmental education project comprised of concrete activities that halt or even reverse the desertification process, was integrated into the normal school curriculum. Considerable attention was dedicated to teacher training and the involvement of parents and community leaders. The children were able to sell the nursery products to their local community thereby supplementing their family incomes.

The Recoleta School

The Recoleta School is a small village school in the region of Ovalle, 250 km north of the capital, Santiago. It is made up of eight elementary classes with 110 pupils enrolled and nine teachers, seven of whom hold a university degree. The pupils arrive by bus from neighbouring areas. Their socio-economic situation is consistent with the official government classification for extreme poverty and few children have the financial possibility to go to secondary school beyond their primary school education. A quarter of pupils live alone with their mothers who work in the vineyards or peach plantations (picture 1.).

1. Pupils in Recoleta often live alone with their mothers
far from their school so they have to travel by bus.

badCauses and effects of land degradation

The region of Recoleta is an area that is heavily exploited. The principal activities
in Recoleta are sheep rearing, viticulture and mining, though natural resources are seriously under threat by the process of desert encroachment. Ever since the Spanish conquest and occupation, the population that settled rapidly in the region pursuing subsistence activities.
The destruction of vegetation cover for mining work and the production of coal, as well as the practice of rain-fed agriculture and the effect of overgrazing, have completely degraded the land. Generally, it can be said that the over-exploitation of land and the abusive extraction of mineral resources, linked to inadequate production methods and techniques, such as cereal cultivation on ill adapted land, are the principal causes of desertification in Chile. In addition, low levels of rainfall and periods of intense drought intensify the phenomenon. As a consequence, the population lacks fodder for their animals and the land becomes degraded.

2. The pupils from the Recoleta school
designed a wall chart that told of their work.

goodPossible solutions

Faced with alarming environmental degradation, an active NGO in Chile, JUNDEP, Juventudes para el Desarrollo y la Producciòn (Youth for development and Production) decided to respond to these problems through public awareness activities targeting children. Children tend to be more open to new ideas and more importantly, they are the decision-makers of the future. The JUNDEP fieldworkers are convinced that social, cultural, economical and environmental changes, necessary to improve the situation, can only happen if accompanied by changed behaviour and values among individuals. It is for this reason that JUNDEP chose to target the project to combat desertification at primary school level pupils.
It is essential that children acquire ecological knowledge and become aware of the importance of protecting their natural environment by undertaking projects and activities that are within their scope, and that can realistically be achieved.

bladThe school initiative

The JUNDEP environmental education project relies on the following activities:

3. The pupils were taught gardening techniques,
necessary for working in the nursery and the arboretum.

Education and training
Training began by introducing the teachers to the basics of environmental protection and specific themes such as the causes and effects of desertification. They were taught how to set up a nursery and an orchard at the school. Training days took place at the school with the JUNDEP professionals: a forest and an agricultural engineer, a lawyer and several educators.
Following training, the teachers were reassembled to develop an education programme on environmental protection.

Practical activities
The pupils were organized into ‘ecological teams’ of 15 girls and 15 boys each, supervised by a teacher. They were taught the necessary gardening techniques needed for working in the nursery and arboretum. They were taught how to select seeds and properly use fertilizers, they were also taught irrigation methods, planting and planting out (picture 3.).

Each plant was identified with labels indicating its common and scientific name and the origin of the species. Local species were given priority as well as certain exotic species whose use is particularly important for the agricultural economy of the region: cypress, acacias, eucalyptus, willows, poplars, palm trees, carob and peppers. The cultivated species of fruit trees were principally apricots, vines, figs and olives.

The pupils making up the ‘ecological teams’ were responsible for the tidying up and storing of the tools. They also participated in drilling a well with the help of their parents and environmental educators. Although all the activities were undertaken on a voluntary basis, the rate of participation was very high (90% during the school year and 50% during the holidays).

Cultivated plants were then sold.

4. The plants are sold to the community and the profits
are reinvested in the nursery. A portion of which is
used to organize a big party.

The follow up
The programme and the school activities organized by JUNDEP on the theme of desertification had a considerable impact throughout the whole community as well as within the school. The parents of the schoolchildren and the environmental educators were regularly invited to conferences and debates organized by JUNDEP on the theme of desertification. Teachers from other regions also visited the Recoleta School.

Videos, slides, a wall chart (picture 2.) and manuals on the theme of desertification have been designed within the framework of the project to assist in the pedagogic support. The materials were provided by JUNDEP.
The cultivated plants in the nursery and the orchard were commercialized within the community and notably in other rural schools that demonstrated an interest. Buyers could order certain species. While most of the profits made were reinvested in the nursery some were used to organize a big party at the end of the year for the pupils, with gifts for every one of them.


The objective of the project was to prepare the children to a self-help system of agricultural management, particularly since most pupils do not continue their studies beyond the eight-year cycle of elementary education. The method employed by JUNDEP consisted of consolidating the role of teachers as educators by developing teacher awareness and know-how that facilitated knowledge transfer. This preferred learning technique requires a participatory approach that includes many practical activities.

At the end of the programme, an evaluation of environmental knowledge acquired demonstrated the effectiveness of the method. The pupils were very motivated and families were very much involved with the project.
The nursery is currently self-financed with the production of fruit trees, ornamental plant species or forest species that are sold in town with the help of the Department of Parks and Gardens.

One of the major problems encountered was the lack of water: the pump did not function adequately (but was subsequently repaired). Also, the limited space available to the pupils meant that the pupils spread out the cycle of crops by planting new plants when the first batch were commercialized. Another factor that potentially had a detrimental effect on the project was teacher turnover. Many of the teachers only stayed at the school for one or two years. However, the method employed by JUNDEP consisted of involving all the teachers in the project, which guarantees a certain continuity since the former teachers can initiate the new arrivals to the programme. In addition, it is hoped that the teachers that move from one school to another transfer their recently acquired knowledge on the environment and desertification to their new institution.

This case study was proposed by Mrs Helvia Montoya.
For more information, please contact her at the following address:

Mrs Helvia Montoya Gonzáles
Balmaceda 1604
La Serena

Tel. / Fax (+56) 51 216432



The teacher tells the
story of the Recoleta
School to the class.


Locate your region on the world map. Find the region of Recoleta in Chile.
Is your country on the same continent as Chile? Are their problems similar
to yours?


Write a play telling the story of the Recoleta School. Everyone has a role; there are pupils, teachers and environmental educators, people who buy plants from the nursery, etc.


Imagine creating a nursery in your school. What species would
you plant? Where would you go to sell them? What would you do with the money you made from the sale of the trees?


Tell the story of the Recoleta children in the form of a cartoon with captions:
children that travel large distances to attend school,
the environmental educators that observe land degradation, the environmental education project, the gardening activities in the nursery, the sale of plants, the party organized with the money made.


Tick the correct answers
from the following:

To create a nursery, it is necessary to have:

• a lot of money.
• a water source.
• mature trees.
• gardening tools.
• degraded lands.
• plant seeds.
• earth.
• exotic plants.


Draw the Recoleta School before and after the project on combating desertification. In the first drawing, show the degraded lands around the school and the sparse vegetation. Beside it, draw the school after the implementation of the project: the nursery and the orchards, the many trees, the happy children.


Read the cartoon
The School Where the Magic Tree Grows’.

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