When sustainability becomes part of the curriculum


During the trade Grüne Woche, school classes visited the BMZ (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development), Brot für die Welt and Misereor. Each class spends one hour at their stand to learn about the global challenges posed by food systems. A review by Jan Rübel.

School classes were able to learn more about agricultural and food systems through play as part of the school programme run by BMZ, Misereor and Bread for the World.©GIZ, 2023

By Jan Rübel

Jan Rübel is author at Zeitenspiegel Reportagen, a columnist at Yahoo and writes for national newspapers and magazines. He studied History and Middle Eastern Studies.

All contributions

All of a sudden, they are there. Just a moment ago, helpers had cut a cocoa pod and draped it on the table. They had straightened the cube-shaped seats while wistfully staring at the half-empty aisles. Everything was still being set up and food was still cooking in kettles on this morning of the International Green Week (IGW) – but out of the blue, the area of BMZ Booth 107 in Hall 10.2 fills up all at once: The invasion of schoolchildren begins. ‘Girls, an egg’, shouts a ten-year-old girl. A fourth grade class from the Berlin Primary School at the Brandenburg Gate spreads out in the booth of the BMZ (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the two charities, ‘Brot für die Welt’ and Misereor. ‘An egg?’ asks the friend who just showed up. ‘Look – it’s right here’, says the first. Both are standing in front of a wooden table with a palm-sized white cardboard sign with the imprint of a brown egg on it. One of the girls reads: ‘How much virtual water is hidden behind these products?’ ‘Hmm. An egg comes from a chicken’, says the other kid, ‘and it certainly drinks a lot.’


Welcome to an adventure course in development policy: during Green Week, the pupils visit an area where questions are on display instead of delicacies. Where does our food come from? And what are the consequences? While the other exhibition booths are still waiting for the big rush of public traffic this morning, there is a lot of commotion at the triangle between the BMZ and the two NGOs. The children are setting the pace. And it is fast.


Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Pupils answered questions about fair and sustainable production conditions at the Bread for the World stand. ©GIZ, 2023

The two girls are joined by two others and put their heads together. In the end, how much water is needed for a flower or a cup of coffee? Or for a bar of chocolate, a tomato or a piece of meat? To the right of the white cardboard signs are orange signs – with volumes indicated in litres. ‘That’s a steak’, says one pupil. ‘I’m sure it uses a lot.’ Ultimately, they put the labels of three products in the right place – but get the other three wrong.


Sustainability, supply chains and fair trade are considered unwieldy terms, but like everything else, they can be broken down. Still thinking about the amount of water needed for meat, the kids run to the next station. Stefan Gransow takes a jar of grains and shakes it in front of them. ‘This is millet’, says the Misereor educational consultant. ‘A lot of people say it’s a thing for lazy farmers – it grows wherever you throw it.’ Completely different from meat. ‘And millet is a superfood’, Gransow continues. ‘What does that mean?’ The children ponder. ‘It makes you strong and full’, suggests one of them. ‘When you’re hungry, you’re in a bad mood’, adds another. ‘And then you don’t do well in school either.’


The four pupils now talk shop with Gransow about rice, which survives strong winds and flooding better than other crops. Then they talk about the cost of meat. ‘If you eat it, you’re already taking something away from somewhere’, says Gransow. ‘So it’s better not to eat it every day.’ In the background, the teacher and the educator observe what is happening. ‘This is real hands-on learning in a different place’, says Irina B. and her colleague Sabine K. from the day care centre: ‘I love that the children can touch a few things instead of just having to listen to a lecture.’ The last time she was at a Green Week with school children was seven years ago, says Irina B., ‘but back then it was extremely crowded and chaotic – unlike here’.


Towards the end, all the fourth graders surround two tables in the middle, where they grab stamps from a sack and use them to decorate bags. They also decorate some paper slips, on which they wrote some ideas. One of them says: ‘We don’t pull plants out of the ground.’


Again and again one reads: 'The farmers should get more money! I wish for more justice.'


The togetherness of the class draws in. A delivery man with a box full of cutlery stops and looks at them to see what’s going on. And then there are older kids who smirk quietly at the young children.


Ich bin ein Alternativtext
At the Misereor stand, children are educated about different farming methods and the role of superfoods. ©GIZ, 2023

Only the pupils of an eleventh grade look a little disgruntled at the hustle and bustle – and are happy that the little ones are finally leaving the field to them. A teenager asks his teacher: ‘Isn’t this something for little kids?’. ‘They have something for all ages’, she replies. And they do indeed. The teenagers are still staring into the air as if they don’t notice the booth. One of them mumbles: ‘This is all too early for me.’ But when the first five teenagers from the vocational school in Königs Wusterhausen sit down in front of the open cocoa fruit and taste the beans, it sparks some interest. ‘It’s bitter’, says one girl. ‘I actually like it’, says another. And a boy adds: ‘It’s not bad. But it still needs to be roasted, right?’ He had no idea that the beans are fermented beforehand and wrapped in banana leaves. Suddenly, he is paying attention – after all, he is training to be a chef. A few metres away, he and the others see another surprising fact.


‘40 million people live from cocoa cultivation’, explains Janna Vogel, Initiative for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains (INA). ‘On average, a family earns 172 dollars a month.’


Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Visitors could write down their wishes for a fair future on the wish wall. ©GIZ, 2023


The group is silent. ‘We work with the cocoa farmers to increase productivity and quality’, Vogel continues. ‘However, we need higher prices for the projects to work.’ When the eleventh graders go to the centre in the end, the apprentice chef says: ‘I can’t believe they work so hard for so little money...’ He admits that he has not heard of development projects and NGOs. ‘But you should make sure that the products you buy are fair. I already do that.’ In the brainstorming session at the end about ‘what helps’, a teenager bursts out: ‘Maybe cocoa should be grown in more areas; then we wouldn’t be so dependent... or we could donate more... or provide more education to raise awareness about these injustices!’


On the sidelines, Gransow gathers his things. He has to leave quickly for an appointment. ‘Primary school students are usually more curious. They also want to show off what they know’, he says. And if you can’t arouse curiosity in the older kids, ‘you can make it all about sympathy’. He sorts the jars with seed varieties. ‘We connect with people in their comfort zone.’ Gransow, 48, looks serious. When he stands in front of young people, he often thinks: Technically, you are already ahead of my generation, ‘regardless of your personal education level’. Many things appear more normal to them, such as vegetarian food. ‘With all this information and our educational efforts, we are just a small wheel in the system.’ He pauses. Of course, everything is going too slowly for him, as society moves towards sustainability. ‘But sometimes we arouse interest, and when things go really well, we motivate people to take action.’ That’s better than nothing. Gransow picks up his bag and starts walking.


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