Optimism rises over progress of school feeding programme

The Government plans to develop a nationally owned home-grown school feeding programme with a high degree of community ownership, the Ministry of Education has announced.
Plans are underway to have the school feeding programme introduced in all schools across the country. The New Times/File.
Plans are underway to have the school feeding programme introduced in all schools across the country. The New Times/File.

The Government plans to develop a nationally owned home-grown school feeding programme with a high degree of community ownership, the Ministry of Education has announced.

The Director-General of Education Planning in the Ministry of Education, Dr. Erasme Rwanamiza, was on Monday reacting to World Food Programme (WFP) report which indicates that more than 360,000 primary school pupils from about 300 schools have benefited from WFP funded school feeding programme in the country since 2002.

The World Food Programme report, titled The State of School Feeding Worldwide, was released last week in Rome, Italy, during an annual meeting of school feeding experts and warned that ‘the coverage of school feeding programmes is lowest in countries where the need is the greatest.’

The WFP feeding programme is now in its final stage with plans to hand over the scheme to the education ministry, which will then engage parents as part of the home grown school feeding programme. 

According to the ministry, the school feeding programme has been very crucial in improving education and nutrition status of school children.

Dr Rwanamiza said though there is no data to measure its impact, school feeding was critical in improving punctuality and attendance at school, the decrease of diseases related to malnutrition as well as strengthening ties and relationships between students.

The country, he said, currently runs three different feeding programmes in schools. They include the One Cup of Milk per Child under the Ministry of Agriculture which serves about 75 000 pre-primary and primary school students in grades 1 to 3. 

The second, the Secondary School Programme, is funded by the ministry and subsidises meals cooked in all boarding public and Government-sponsored secondary schools.

The third implemented by WFP and has been scaled down to two districts of Nyamagabe and Nyaruguru provides cooked lunch to primary and lower secondary school children in food-insecure districts. 

According to Rwanamiza, in order to guarantee the programme’s sustainability it is imperative that parents get involved. 

“In order to design a sound Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF) and successfully transition to full government ownership, the Government of Rwanda has stated its desire to develop a nationally owned home-grown school feeding programme with a high degree of  community ownership”, Dr Rwanamiza told The New Times via an email.

According to the official, plans are underway to have the school feeding programme introduced in all schools across the country but, he noted, the process will depend on the availability of funds to support it.

Government plans to spend over Rwf5bn on the school feeding programme in the next fiscal year.

“Acknowledging the school feeding programme potential contribution to multiple economic development and poverty reduction goals and objectives, the community will be sensitised about how HGSF programme will benefit them and school children, not only in terms of nutrition and education outcomes, but also with regard to local agriculture aspects through local purchases of food,” he added.

The WFP report commends efforts put into the feeding programme over the last few years.

It however warns that ‘the coverage of school feeding programmes is lowest in countries where the need is the greatest’.

“In low-income countries, where children are most likely to be poor and hungry, only 18 percent receive a daily meal at school, compared to nearly 49 percent of children in middle-income countries,” the report reads in part.

“This suggests that where the need is greatest in terms of hunger, poverty and poor social indicators, the coverage continues to be the lowest.” 

The report calls upon developing countries to establish clear and strong mechanisms to recover costs involved in the programme and, thus, guarantee its sustainability.

Long-term investment

Based on a sample of 169 countries, WFP estimates that at least 368 million children –about 1 out of every 5- are fed daily when they are at school, according to the report. 

Global investment in these programmes is about US$ 75 billion, with most coming from government budgets.

According to the reports’ authors, school feeding presents a lot of economic opportunities to spur local development and, particularly, the development of agriculture.

While commenting on the report, WFP’s Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, observed that school feeding presents a lot of opportunities, including among others addressing social needs, providing a social safety net during crises and supporting child development through improved learning and enhanced nutrition.

WFP has been operating school meals programmes in developing countries,  for more than half a century. Last year, the organisation provided meals or nutritious snacks in school for 24.7 million children in 63 countries, providing an incentive for poor families to keep their children in class, rather than pull them out to work in the fields, in the factories or in the home.  

Last year, WFP said it would start purchasing food from local small-scale farmers to help improve their income.

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