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Is FG’s school feeding a ruse or relief for pupils, parents?

By Iyabo Lawal
02 March 2017   |   4:22 am
Six-year-old Ekene, a primary one pupil of Community Primary School, Awka South, in Anambra State, has a smile that could light up a stadium at night. It is the day government...

Some beneficiaries of the school feeding programme

To many, the pupils feeding programme of the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government is a ruse while to others it is a fillip to getting kids stay in school and relieve parents of some financial burden, IYABO LAWAL reports.

Six-year-old Ekene, a primary one pupil of Community Primary School, Awka South, in Anambra State, has a smile that could light up a stadium at night. It is the day government school feeding programme would start.

A month ago, it took threats of beating from his mother to get him ready for school. Ekene eats breakfast to school, most days; it is fufu and bitter leaf soup. He could tell the family’s meal plan one year in advance.

As he devoured a generous portion of okpa, an eastern Nigerian delicacy prepared with a special type of beans – Bambara bean, otherwise known as moi moi, in the South with his fingers, he could not help but ask the teacher if they would be getting jollof rice the next day.

The programme
Anambra State is one of the beneficiaries of the Federal government’s National Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programme formally inaugurated on June 9, 2016, but effectively took off in October with other states such as Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ebonyi.

President Muhammadu Buhari during his campaign in 2015 promised that his government would provide free meals for primary school pupils in the country as well as creates thousands of jobs for Nigerians.

The national school feeding programme is part of the Social Investment Plan of the government which also includes Conditional Cash Transfer to indigent citizens and the provision of 500,000 jobs for which N500 billion was budgeted for in the 2016 Appropriation Act.

The HGSF was allocated N93.1 billion in the 2016 budget. Under the programme, the Federal Government plans to increase the number of school pupils served free meals a day from 5.5 million in 18 states to 20 million in four years across all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

A unique feature of the initiative is that middlemen are eliminated as payments go directly to vendors after accreditation. State governments are not compelled to contribute though voluntary contributions are welcomed.

But the initiative is hardly novel even in Nigeria. In 2004, the Federal Government piloted the implementation of the HGSF.

The Federal Ministry of Education was the designated implementing agency for a phased-pilot rollout, beginning with 12 states and the FCT selected from the six geopolitical zones.

It was stopped by 10 states and the FCT not long after commencement, leaving only Osun and Kano states with the school feeding programmes.

Constraints such as financing, operation, inadequate monitoring and evaluation, poor stakeholders input resulting in low community involvement and participation and lack of supporting infrastructure such as water, sanitation and hygiene killed the plan.

The experience from the pilot has provided several important policy and operational insights for HGSF 2.0. There is funding support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank Group and the Vitol Foundation.

Technical assistance was provided by Imperial College London’s Partnership for Child Development led by Abimbola Adesanmi (she was engaged to manage the initiative) with key technical support from Samrat Singh and Lesley Drake.

A total of 17 states have concluded the designing of their HGSF models through state-level multi-sectoral capacity building workshops. The states are Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Enugu, Sokoto, Kaduna, Borno, Zamfara, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Delta, Abia and Bauchi. Estimated figures from 15 of these states put the numbers of pupils to be feed at over 3.4 million.

As part of this programme, the technical team has successfully conducted food safety and hygiene training for over 25,000 cooks in nine states (out of the 17).

Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi had announced in July that the HGSF would take off when the new school year began in September but did not commence until October.

Speed is not a strong suit of the current administration which spent twice the lifespan of Chief Ernest Shonekan’s administration selecting ministers in 2015.

Four months into the programme, its implementation has elicited mixed feelings.

Special Adviser to the Governor of Kogi State on Multi-lateral Donor Agencies and Special Projects/Focal Person on Social Investment Programme, Adoga Ibrahim said the programme is leading to increased employment in the state for caterers and farmers engaging them to produce more home-grown food products.

Similarly, the Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr. Idiat Oluranti Adebule, at a workshop to determine how best the Federal Government’s a-meal a-day school feeding programme can be implemented held in Lagos last month noted that the initiative would add about 530,000 metric tons of food per annum and attract about N980 billion investments in food production.

Clearly, according to observers, the opportunities for new investments are huge as a value chain is being developed around the initiative.

There are concerns about the slow verification process and release of monies in days which they fear may be hampered by bureaucracy.

In the last week of January, the Federal Government released over N375 million, the first this year, to feed almost 700,000 primary school pupils across five states for 10 days.

Ogun State got a total of N119,648,900 paid to 1,381 cooks to feed 170,927 pupils; Ebonyi State got N115,218, 600 paid to 1,466 cooks to feed 164,598 pupils; Anambra State got N67.5 million, paid to 937 cooks to feed 96,489 pupils; Oyo State got N72.2 million paid to 1,437 cooks to feed 103,269 pupils and Osun State got N867,370 paid to 2,688 cooks to feed 142,193 pupils.

A statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Office of the Vice President, Mr. Laolu Akande, stated that more states would be added to the scheme and the figures would have to go up when Zamfara and Enugu states are expected to be paid N188.7 million and N67.2 million respectively.

He noted that by then, over N631 million would have been released so far in 2017 for school feeding in seven states, paid to 11,775 cooks and meant to feed over one million primary school pupils. The exact number of pupils by then would be 1,043,205.

Experts have also raised concern over the quality of the meals offered the students.

Anambra State got N67.5 million, paid to 937 cooks to feed 96,489 pupils within 10 days which brings the average cost of feeding Ekene to N694 in 10 days or about N69 a day. A wrap of okpa sells between N50 and N100.

This means that’s Ekene’s parents get to save N13,455 a year, which won’t make much of difference until the N2,500 daily income of Ekene’s father, a commercial trycle operator is factored in.

A UNESCO study says poor nutrition and health among schoolchildren contributes to the inefficiency of educational system.

Children with diminished cognitive abilities and sensory impairments naturally perform less well and are more likely to repeat grades and to drop out of school than children who are not impaired; they also enrol in school at a later age, if at all, and finish fewer years of schooling, the organisation pointed out.

“The irregular school attendance of malnourished and unhealthy children is one of the key factors in poor performance. Even temporary hunger, common in children who are not fed before going to school, can have an adverse effect on learning.

“Children who are hungry have more difficulty concentrating and performing complex tasks, even if otherwise well nourished. Research and program experience shows that improving nutrition and health can lead to better performance, fewer repeated grades and reduced drop out,” the UN agency stated.

Highlighting the importance of provision of quality meals, Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, said that a report by the Food Consumption and Nutrition Survey in Nigeria captured the poor nutritional status of Nigerian children by revealing that 42 per cent of Nigerian children are stunted, 25 per cent underweight, 29.55 per cent suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, while over 27 per cent are at different stages of iron and iodine deficiency.

This indicates how crucial the quality of food provided reflects a balanced diet.

Because the programme is locally driven, food is sourced locally and fruits are added to the menu including clean water.

If the feeding programme is sustained, young Nigerian kids from indigent homes can smile and look forward to going to school always and such scheme can be a brain-power boost for them.