Federal Government’s school feeding programme
The Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP) of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), a component part of its Social Investment Plans (SIPs) to tackle poverty and improve the health and education of children, is a commendable idea that must be encouraged by all. In the design of the programme, the FGN is to fund the feeding of pupils in Primary one to Primary three while the state governments are expected to fund pupils in Primary four to Primary six. The programme attracted N500 billion allocation in both the 2016 and 2017 budgets at the federal level and so far the FGN has spent N6.2 billion during the academic year that ended in August. Although the programme has a target of three million, since its inception in 2016, it has made significant strides feeding 2, 827, 501 school children across 14 states of the federation. The states are Abia, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Kaduna, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba, and Zamfara states.
The programme is timely because the economic recession that hit the country heightened its importance as both a social safety net for children living in poverty and as part of national educational policies and plans. It has increased school enrolment and retention, improved attendance and reduced absenteeism; and once the children are in school, the programme contributes to their learning, through avoiding hunger and enhancing cognitive abilities which addresses the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 targeted at quality education.
Essentially, the poorest children who suffer most from hunger are able to attend school and learn while there, which ensures human right to adequate food, further pushing for the achievement of SDG 2 targeted at zero hunger and SDG 10 targeted at reduced inequalities. Hence, it is heart-warming that the FGN recently stated that more states and primary schools across the country are expected to benefit from the programme by the time schools reopen this month for a new session.
Apart from feeding pupils, it has also boosted local food production and purchase because the meals are prepared with locally grown foodstuffs, as the programme was designed to work with local farmers and boost domestic agriculture production; thus linking school feeding directly with agricultural development. It has helped check malnutrition amongst deprived communities through the serving of one hot meal per child per day and also created employment, having engaged 33,895 cooks in the communities where the implementing schools are located in the 14 states.
Although, the programme is one of the social intervention strategies to ensure that pupils in poor communities have access to education by removing the barriers of hunger, only selected schools in poorer communities benefit from such meals. Obviously, the programme has achieved some gains for the beneficiary schools but it has also resulted in inequality and injustice within the communities, especially for those pupils that attend the non-beneficiary schools. This notwithstanding, these, the FGN has used the programme as an entry point to invest in the long-term development of children, families and communities.
In the long term, the programme will eradicate poverty and encourage food security because the education and health improvements of children will lead to a greater earning potential later in life, thus breaking the cross-generational cycle of poverty. As such the programme illustrates the role education and schools have in the long-term developments’ of the country. Furthermore, the programme helps farmers by providing a structured market for local agricultural production and an opportunity to boost local economies by reinvesting resources into the communities the programme is serving. Therefore, the programme is a quick win in the fight against poverty and hunger as it has impacted directly on the lives of Nigerian children and families.
So, apart from boosting the literacy and health/nutrition status in the country, the HGSFP is an integral part of the long-term development of a child and part of the continuum of development support. As such it is a critical step to ensuring that children are able to reach their full potential. Against this backdrop, the programme should be given prime priority and the beneficiaries scaled up at the federal and state levels to inclusion. Achieving this requires a national policy. Therefore, in addition to the laid-down guidelines towards implementation, the Federal Government or the National Assembly should back up the programme with a legislative Act and include all the thirty six (36) states. State governments should intensify efforts to support the initiative by providing for it in their budgets and designing implementation plans that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound!
Again, the programme should encompass both public and private primary institutions across the country. Qualified food scientists, nutritionists, dieticians and caterers should be involved in running the programme while the cooking and serving should be executed under the supervision of the School Based Management Committee (SBMC). Serving should be conducted in a uniform standard measure to ensure standard-sized meals. In addition, feeding should be well guided by a menu which reflects the nutritional need for energy and micronutrients. Collectively, Nigerians can use this programme to secure the nation’s future as it ensures that even the most disadvantaged children have the opportunity to maximise their potentials. The organised private sector, through their corporate social responsibility programmes, civil societies, charities and individuals should also complement the efforts of the government in this programme.