On the school feeding programme
FEDERAL Government’s plan to introduce a school feeding programme for primary school pupils in the country is a demonstration of its commitment to tackling the rot in Nigeria’s education system from the root. The idea is laudable and should be supported by all who crave a great future for the country. That abject poverty is wreaking havoc in most families is no longer in doubt and families in this predicament, who can hardly afford one meal a day, find it extremely difficult to send their kids to school. This has, for long, been an endemic problem culminating in the rising number of out-of school children. Government should indeed move from rhetoric to real action on this very initiative to save Nigeria’s future.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the other day at the 45th Annual Accountants Conference in Abuja disclosed that the Muhammadu Buhari-administration would soon commence the programme of giving primary school children free meals. The free feeding scheme is a core project of the Federal Government that would in turn yield about 1.14 million jobs and increase food production. Speaking on the topic “Repositioning Nigeria for Sustainable Development: From Rhetoric to Performance,” he said the multiplier effect of the introduction of the school feeding scheme would help increase food production by up to 530,000 metric tonnes per annum and attract fresh investments of up to N980 billion.
Osinbajo further said that building the capacity of teachers is one important intervention needed in the education sector. As a result, the feeding programme is intended to drive teacher’s capacity development, boost basic education and attract talents to the teaching profession. He recalled that his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had made a commitment to providing one-meal-a-day for all primary school pupils, a development that would create jobs in agriculture, including poultry, catering and delivery services.
There is no doubt that a well articulated and coordinated school feeding programme that guarantees one good meal a day for pupils would, certainly, attract hordes of pupils to school. The Buhari administration, by doing this, would have provided a way out of low school enrolment, especially, in the northern states of the country and charted a path to Nigeria’s educational system’s renaissance.
The idea of school feeding programme is not altogether new. Both the Federal and some state governments tinkered with the idea in the past without much success. For example, in 2005, former President Olusegun Obasanjo launched what he called a home-grown school feeding programme aimed at improving the nutritional intake of at least 25 million children of school age.
Obasanjo boasted then that “Nigeria is making a statement that it cares about her children and the future of the nation.” He noted that the programme would not only increase school enrolment and completion rates of children, particularly, in rural communities and urban neighbourhoods, but also stimulate local food production and boost the income of farmers. Unfortunately, the programme hardly saw the light of the day as it simply fizzled away.
Similarly, some state governments have attempted school feeding programmes without much success. Lagos, Osun and Kano states, among others, have at one time or another introduced school feeding scheme but could not sustain it with the programme always bogged down by poor funding, poor logistics, corruption, greed of contractors and nepotism.
Viewed from this angle, the Buhari/Osinbajo school feeding programme requires a comprehensive strategy. It would be totally unwise to throw money to states or local councils without a comprehensive plan as experience has shown that the problem does not lie in kick-starting such a programme but in sustaining it. Some fundamental issues must be addressed prior to implementation. Feeding about 2.5 million children in primary schools daily is not an easy task.
Questions must be asked: How would the food items be sourced on a regular basis? What framework would be used to implement the programme? Would each school be empowered to cater for its students? Or, would caterers be engaged? What role would the states and local governments play in the scheme? And who would ensure that the right quality and quantity of food is served the pupils? These and other details must be sorted out to ensure success of the programme.
Globally, many countries have entrenched school feeding programme, which is designed primarily to give children good nutrition. India’s school feeding programme is legendary. In Africa, Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, etc, have long-standing successful school feeding programmes and in Kenya, school children are given a glass of fresh milk daily.
South Africa’s Primary School Nutrition Programme (PSNP), established in 1994, is designed to improve the health and nutritional status of primary school children, improve school attendance and improve the learning capacity of children. While many developed countries have functional school feeding programmes, the benefits are more in the low income countries with the overall impact is improvement in the quality of education.
It is, therefore, expected that with Nigeria’s huge earnings from oil, the country ought to have even a more functional and better funded school feeding programme. Indeed, the time has come for the authorities to re-order priorities and treat education as the most worthwhile investment in Nigeria’s future.