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Tuesday, 11 June 2013

School Feeding Programme

Government plans to widen its School Feeding Programme. The existing GRZ programme as so far only provided food for a paltry 800, 000 school children across the country, over the last 10 years - against an estimated 3.1 million vulnerable school children annually that need to be on the programme.

One of our readers, a teacher in Mwinilunga, reports that year his school has received 56 25KG bag of mealie meal. This year they recieved 56KG bag of maize and 36 2.5liters of cooking oil. It is regared as a helpful programme to learners who come to school "with an empty stomach". In his words, "even absentism has reduced because pupils come to school knowing that they will eat". The programme at that school has has been funded by WFO, UNCDF, UNESCO, PAM in collaboration with GRZ.

Expanding the programme therefore has clear benefits. However, it is being done without any regulatory framework - there are no defined applicable standards, both in terms of food and its calorific value. A new regulatory framework would seek to define how much a child needed, the times the food should be provided, and determine whether the programme should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture or Ministry of Education or indeed be jointly run by the two ministries or completely separate entities.

Agriculture Minister Robert Sichinga is keen to learn from how Brazil has run its programme. Particularly how it has engaged small scale farmers as suppliers of food". He observes that “[Brazil's] approach provides sustenance for the farmers and cooperatives as they have a ready market for their produce".

This is a welcome development. It has never become more important especially since the removal subsidies may worsen poverty in rural areas unless that money is given back as cash transfers to the poor and massive investment is undertaken in rural infrastructure.

It is particularly vital that the school feeding programme is not just about food but part of a broader form of rural child support. In particular there's need for concerted and targeted child support, conditional on school attendance. It should include free school lunches, chool uniforms, and cash transfers to families whose children showed up frequently enough in school.

Such measures can be focused on girls and on districts with low income levels, and that could be a signal that women and their education are important. At the same time, it would strengthen education, and stimulate rural income.

Providing good education is not simply about building classrooms. It requires a broader effort that includes : tackling teacher shortages; building rural roads; increasing incentives for school attendance; and, putting in deliberate measures to increase rural incomes.

Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013

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