The state of school feeding programmes in South Africa
How school feeding programmes are helping to address food insecurity.
“You can’t teach a hungry child” is the slogan for South Africa’s Peninsula School Feeding Association in the Western Cape, which provides the resonating impetus for global school feeding programmes.
Finland is a world leading expert in school meals. As the first country to serve free school meals since 1948 (although the school meal programme was introduced in the 1920s), it continues to refine the system in ways that are admirable.
When Food24 was invited to the Finnish food and drink innovations media visit recently, we found out how the country is instilling sustainable eating habits in the youth and encouraging their participation in the school meals programme.
A vegetarian meal is offered at least once a week, for example. In lower and upper secondary schools, students can contribute ideas for the menu. Here, menus are often culturally themed, where even students from African countries can have their comfort food featured in the menu on occasion. Finland is currently looking for ways to improve this kind of pupils’ participation and developing practices related to school meals on a national level.
These are qualities that South Africa could hopefully emulate in the future, but for now, the stark differences between the two countries give context to the priorities and possibilities of their respective school meals programme.
Finland has a laudable history of its equal society and it ranked No. 1 in 2020 and No. 4 in 2021 in the Global Food Security Index based on food availability, quality and safety.
South Africa, on the other hand, is the most unequal country in the world. Stats SA reports that the country remains food insecure at household level as not all households have access to adequate food. Therefore, the objective to alleviate hunger and lessen the burden from poorer households takes precedence in South Africa’s schools feeding programmes.
Researcher for youth leadership development organisation Equal Education Stacey Jacobs says that government’s National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) under the Department of Basic Education (DBE), which was established in 1994, is a lifeline for many vulnerable learners in the country.
“The programme currently feeds over nine million learners and most of these learners come from no-fee paying schools. NSNP also caters to disadvantaged and marginalised learners at a number of fee-paying schools,” Stacey says.
“This programme improves absenteeism of learners and really assists with the most cognitive abilities of learners. Without access to a daily nutritious meal, learners’ ability to learn and stay focused in the classroom is negatively impacted. For many of these learners, we found that their guaranteed meal of the day comes from the school feeding programme, and this speaks to the importance of the NSNP.”
This importance was accentuated when the Department of Basic Education halted the NSNP at the beginning of lockdown in March 2020 when all schools had to close, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving over nine million learners vulnerable without the daily meal they depended on. Equal Education intervened and won a court case against national and provincial education departments that saw the NSNP reinstated so that learners could continue to get food during lockdown.
The NSNP caters to all nine provinces although it does not provide meals to all schools in each province. Some schools are provided for by independent feeding initiatives. The NSNP offers a hot meal and the menu consists of protein (soya, fish, eggs, milk, sour milk, beans and lentils), carbohydrate/starch (pap, bread, rice, samp), and fresh fruit and vegetables.
One meal per day is provided. However, breakfast and lunch are served at targeted schools and, in some provinces such as the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and North West, through government funding and private partnerships. One such partnership is with the Tiger Brands Foundation since 2011. Currently, the Foundation serves breakfast in 95 schools across all nine provinces, serving just over 74,000 learners a breakfast.
A commendable quality of the NSNP is its sustainable education objective, which promotes the development of school vegetable gardens.
Stacey points out that from the anecdotes that Equal Education has gathered from learners on the ground of certain provinces, there may be instances where the food that the school provides is insufficient.
“These are some of the things that some provincial departments would need to iron out and make sure that there’s enough food for every learner, where food quantity is an issue. The feeding modalities of schools across different provinces may differ, but what is important is that they work,” Stacey emphasises.
The NSNP works with a model exemplified by the Peninsula School Feeding Association (PSFA) established in 1958. The non-profit organisation addresses hunger in young learners attending primary, secondary and special needs schools as well as Orphaned and Vulnerable Children Centres (OVCs), Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDCs), and Technical and Vocational Education and Training Colleges (TVETs) in the Western Cape province.
With the continuing support of their private donors, they currently provide daily nutritious cooked meals to a total of 25,967 learners at 170 educational institutions in the Western Cape.
All images courtesy of the Tiger Brands Foundation