VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
IN AN effort to improve school attendance, Government, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the European Union and the World Food Programme (WFP), started the school feeding programme in 2003.
It was launched as a pilot project at the backdrop of several research findings that suggested that lack of food was widely responsible for the poor enrolment levels in schools because some parents used their children for economic activities.
The programme which was being implemented in 38 selected districts across the country, is in the process of being scaled up after successful results of the pilot.
Stakeholders involved in the programme are happy with results of the piloted areas and are keen to embark on the second phase of the scaling up process of the feeding programme.
Ministry of General Education holds that the programme, once scaled up, will promote food security and also contribute to national food and nutrition security leading to poverty alleviation.
Evidence indicates that the school feeding programme has improved school attendance for a larger percentage of pupils, who stayed away from school on account of hunger.
Under the pilot programme, 2,700 preschool and primary school learners were reached in 38 districts.
In the catchment areas, parents of the pupils produce food, which is sold to schools and given to pupils for free to enhance class performance.
From the programme, small- scale farmers who earn their living through agriculture will be able to access a ready market for their produce, resulting in the improvement of their individual household productivity and that of the national economy.
Government says the feeding of poor and vulnerable children in schools is a priority programme because it fits within the Patriotic Front (PF) pro-poor policy.
Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Julius Shawa at a stakeholders’ workshop recently, said the agriculture sector will continue to play its role of ensuring that the school feeding programme succeeds because it enhances agriculture by providing ready market for the suppliers of agricultural produce to schools.
Mr Shama said social protection interventions such as school feeding programme and agriculture scaling up programmes are very important and need the support of all stakeholders.
FAO country representative George Okech says the programme has potential to fuel economic growth in future through the expansion of land for the production of food for supply to schools.
A study conducted by FAO to establish the ‘Market access, school feeding’ and the ‘Conservation agriculture scale up’ programmes, namely an impact evaluation (IE) and a microsimulation (MS) study, revealed that the school meal per se is associated with a statistically significant increase of 6.6 percent in the share of children attending primary school and a 64.2 percent decrease in the share of those dropping out of school.
Mr Okech said the feeding proramme is an important undertaking that Government should concentrate on as it has been seen to yield positive outcomes in many other countries.
He said the programme can help to get children into school and help keep them there, increase enrolment and reduce absenteeism.
Mr Okech said school feeding programmes exist in almost all high and middle-income countries and are present, typically with support from the World Food Programme (WFP), in some 70 of 108 low and lower middle-income countries.
He is optimistic that the programme will impact positively on the children’s performance and school attendance once it has been scaled up to other areas.
The WFP-supported school feeding programme started in 2003 in Zambia, by providing a hot nutritious meal of High Energy and Protein Supplements (HEPS) to children attending classes in targeted schools.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka