Humanitarian Affairs: How FG’s school feeding programme encourages pupil enrolments




The National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) was initiated by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2016. In 2019, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was created with Sadiya Umar Farouq as the minister. She promptly initiated the supply of a meal per day to primary one to three pupils in public schools across the country. In this report, PAUL OKAH examines how the initiative has led to an increase in the enrolment of pupils.

For many Nigerians, the best achievement of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is the creation of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development in 2019, which is mandated to oversee the amelioration of the suffering of Nigerians, especially disaster victims, and to lift as many citizens as possible from the shackles of poverty through the numerous agencies under the ministry.

With the appointment of Sadiya Umar Farouq as the pioneer minister, different programmes hitherto handled by the office of the vice-president were transferred to the ministry, including the popular National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) that sees to the feeding of primary one to three pupils in states across the federation.

Background

From inception in 2016, the NHGSFP had the core objectives of increasing school enrolments, participation and completion, improvement of nutritional status of beneficiaries and stimulation of the local economy though the school feeding value chain, with over 127,000 cooks presently engaged in the programme, along with 100 aggregators mopping up protein items.

Also, thousands of other service providers in the school feeding value-chain are effectively participating in the production, processing, preparation and delivery of these free meals to the targeted beneficiaries.

Currently, the total number of children enrolled in the programme stands at 9,881,773 million in over 53,000 schools of which 4.1 million pupils have so far been verified and captured on the NHGSFP database, in line with the ministry’s on-going efforts at establishing a verifiable database of beneficiaries across all of its programmes and interventions.

Pupils’ confessions, commendations

Speaking with the children, a primary two pupil of the LEA Primary School, Jabi, Abuja, Hassan Bello, said the school feeding programme has encouraged him to come to school on a daily basis.

He said, “Everyday I come to school, I will eat rice, beans or Indomie. It makes me come to school every day because there must be something to eat. Sometimes we don’t eat in the house before coming to school because I am sure of getting food. Since I started schooling here, there is no day I don’t get food whenever I am in school.

“I am grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari for the programme. I also thank the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, for sustaining the programme and making sure that we get nutritious food everyday we come to school. We like it and want it to continue.”

Similarly, a primary three pupil of LEA Primary School, Kado Kuchi, Favour Adeboye, said the programme has encouraged some of her friends to join her in school on a daily basis.

“There are some of many friends that didn’t like coming to school before, but they come to school everyday now. Though some still go home after eating, the number of people coming to school has increased. The food is nutritious and tasty; so we like it to continue,” she said.

Focal persons’ take

Speaking in an interview with this reporter, the focal persons of different states said the school feeding programme has led to an increase in the number of school pupils, urging the federal government to sustain the programme even after the Buhari administration.

The programme manager, National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) in Kano state, Mr. Baba Zubair, said the programme has helped a lot in the enrolment of pupils into primary schools, adding that Kano has over 1.2 million pupils it now feeds everyday.

He said: “From inception, enrolment is the most important benefit of this programme. Pupils have increased more than three times. In addition to the state policy of free and compulsory education, this school feeding helps a lot in the enrolment of pupils in primary one to three. The economic benefits are so much that the value chain transcends from the producers to the farmers, local women and every part of the economic pyramid. So, with the school feeding taking place, the farmers produce more food, traders sell more, women also benefit from it.

“Also, the economic benefits are so many that every part of our economy profits from it. This is because whenever there is school feeding the farmers will produce more. The problem we are facing is that most good programmes like this don’t continue once another government comes in. Something like this should be sustained because the results are there for all to see.

“In Kano, we have the largest number of school pupils that are benefiting from this; currently, we are feeding over 1.2 million children between primary one and three everyday. We have 12,258 vendors or cooks. We have 10 aggregators supplying food items.

Likewise, the State Nutrition Officer (SNO) on NHGSFP in Osun state, Mrs. Adedeji Comfort, told Blueprint Weekend that the number of school pupils has tripled as a result of the programme, but lamented the hike in the prices of food items.

“We have an improvement in the enrolment of pupils in Osun; so this programme is encouraging. Every day, we do monitoring in Osun schools. Our monitoring team visits schools to count pupils, the quality and quantity of meals vendors bring to the school. However, we had the problem of hiking the price of food items. Before now, vendors complained of the high cost of food items. Now, a bag of rice is sold for N40, 000, while a congo of beans is N1, 500. We followed the 2018 ginger meal in the menu table. That is what they are following. They find it difficult to follow the menu table and demand to be given more money,” she said.

On his part, the Enugu state programme manager, NHGSFP, Mr. Ifeanyi Onah, said the programme should be sustained because it has also been taken to the grassroots.

“This is the best grassroots programme ever introduced by the federal government which has touched the lives of Nigerians positively. I encourage the government to sustain it because it is the best programme that is far-reaching in touching the lives of the people, both rich and poor. It, however, has its own challenges. The effect of Covid-19 pandemic led to a hike in the prices of food items.

“That made it difficult for cooks and even aggregators to access food at the normal price they were getting it before. It was also affected by the price of N70, though the federal government recently increased it to N100. We say kudos to the government for considering the pleas of the stakeholders to be able to match the realities in food prices. Apart from some of the challenges, the programme is really touching many lives positively in Enugu state.”

What stakeholders are saying

As a result of the transparency of the ministry in implementing the programme, stakeholders have commended the federal government upon its achievements, especially the expansion of the NHSGFP.

The stakeholders made the commendation March 3 in Abuja during a two-day training organised by the ministry, in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), on “Optimising school meal menus,” using SMP Plus (Plus School Menus Tool) for states focal persons and managers from the six geopolitical zones.

Speaking at the training, the focal person for Adamawa state and the North-east, Mrs. Mary Yuwadi, said the ministry, through the NSIP, has increased enrolment in the state as the children receive their breakfast daily. She added that those children that had dropped out of school were back to school because they were encouraged by the meals given in the schools.

“The meal is very nutritious; we give them a balanced diet and that has increased their nutrition. So, we want the government to continue with the programmes and we also appeal that some of the schools that are not included in the programme should be added,” she said.

In his remarks, the acting head, WFP, Capacity Strengthening and Policy Coherence Unit, Kim Do-Hwan, said feeding children with nutritious meals would enhance their growth and productivity, adding that the training would help to improve NHGSFP nationwide.

“We at the WFP are here to help the government of Nigeria to achieve its objectives for the school feeding programme. One of the ways is improving the nutritious contents of the menus, developing them in a way that is more cost- effective and tailored toward a good context, so that it can also spur local economic development,” he said.

FG’s advice to state govts

Despite the success of the programmes, the minister, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, has implored state governments to support the federal government by feeding primary four to six pupils in their respective states.

Giving the advice while speaking on March 3, at the LEA Primary School in Jabi, Abuja, after an awareness Road Walk to mark the 7th African Day of School Feeding, the minister, who was represented by the Special Adviser to President Buhari on Humanitarian Affairs, Alhaji Musa Bungudu, said the president “deserves special commendations for sustaining the programme over the years.”

She said, “I will like to suggest that, while the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development is providing the School Feeding Programme to Primary one, two and three, I strongly recommend and urge that all those states whereby primary four, five and six are not included, it is our hope that all those state governments will also take that responsibility to start feeding the children. They should see to it that primary four, five and six pupils are also taken care of. This is because the need for that one meal is very critical to many of our children, boys and girls across the country.”

Concerns

Also speaking, the FCT focal person for NHGSFP, Mrs. Chinwe Amba, said it would take a collaborative effort to sustain the programme after the administration of President Buhari.

“Though challenges abound, we hope that this year we will get it better. This programme has promoted the enrolment of school pupils. Today makes it seven years of school feeding. I have spoken with the children and they pray for this programme to be sustained. We want this programme to be sustained even after the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari,” she said.

Highlight of the event was the cutting of cake and distribution of school bags, water bottles and snacks by the ministry to pupils of LEA Primary School, Jabi Abuja.

FG’s boost

In furtherance of the government’s commitment, President Buhari recently approved an upward review of the cost of feeding primary one to three pupils in the states from N70 to N100 per child.

Fielding questions from newsmen in Abuja on February 23, on the sideline of a two-day national consultative meeting, the national coordinator of NSIP, Dr. Umar Bindir, who represented the minister, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, said the upward review “is as a result of rising inflation.”

Bindir also encouraged governors to emulate President Buhari’s gesture in sustaining the programme in their respective states, saying “it is aimed at lifting people out of poverty, especially through the patronage of small scale farmers in the food value chain.”

“The National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) is recognised as the most ambitious in Africa. To feed a child is a value chain: from the production, the processing, the cooking, the feeding, collection of utensils and cleaning. Procurement covers the whole process. Since 2016 when we started, we have learnt a lot of things. Since it is a single meal, we expect to deliver an adequate amount of carbohydrate, protein and energy; in order for the children to learn more and be more active.

“When we started, before Covid-19 in 2016, we experienced difficulties in implementing the N70 per child programme. We made presentations to the Honourable minister who passionately made submissions to the president. Mr. President has graciously approved that we should raise the feeding from N70 to N100. The implementation has commenced. We expect cooperation to ensure that this is implemented with time. We hope that the state teams will take this presidential gesture with commitment; to ensure that we sustain this programme so that they can do their best in the state.

“We also hope that the state government, through the governors and their cabinets, will also realise the importance of this aspect which has to do with tackling poverty. It is not just about feeding children, it is also about engaging women to become entrepreneurial. It is also about enhancing the entrepreneurial value of our small scale farmers. So, we hope that this presidential gesture will be understood by governors in order to strengthen the programme,” she said.

NGOs too

Also speaking, the Country Representative of an international organisation, Resolve To Save Lives (RTSL), Dr. Emmanuel Agogo, said the Foundation would be partnering with the federal government in ensuring that school children were fed with nutritious and healthy meals in order to combat trans-fat, cardiovascular diseases and unhealthy meals under the NHGSFP.

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