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Progress in School Feeding, but Challenges Remain

May 31, 2021

By Elizabeth A. Kaine

Children from districts most affected by poverty are prioritized for school feeding. Photo published with author’s permission.

In 2018, President Bio promised to “Expand and improve school feeding programmes in all pre-schools and primary schools.” Three years later we are examining this promise.

Accomplishments

There are several important accomplishments in school feeding since 2018. For example, the national budget included a dedicated line to school feeding, totalling 70 billion Leones for 2020 and 71 billion Leones for 2021. This May, Sierra Leone also approved the National School Feeding Policy, to guide the implementation of the School Feeding Programme (SFP), managed by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE).

In 2020, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), the government allocated 35 billion Leones to provide meals to more than 300,000 primary school pupils in Kambia, Pujehun Bombali, Bonthe, Kailahun, Karene, Kenema, Kono, and Port Loko. According to SFP Director, Sorie Ibrahim Fofanah, currently school feeding has a national coverage of about 33%, supporting 460,358 pupils from 1,651 schools.

However, data shows that only a fraction of the schools are included in the SFP. According to the 2019 school census, the government approved for support 8,912 pre-school and primary schools, meaning that the feeding programme covers about 18% of these schools. According to an MBSSE report published in May, there are nearly 2 million pre-primary and primary pupils enrolled in school. It could mean that only about one out of every four of these pupils benefit from the feeding programme.

Conclusion: Significant efforts are invested to feed pupils in need, but universal school feeding has not yet been achieved. According to the National School Feeding (SFP) Policy, the plan will continue the current practice of targeting communities most vulnerable to hunger and food insecurity until resources and institutional capacity allow expansion to a universal level.

The Cost of School Feeding

The biggest challenge is money, according to SFP Director, Mr. Fofanah. “[The] government funds about 90% of the school feeding operations while Catholic Relief Services [CRS] and Caritas Bo funds the remaining 10%.” According to the SFP Policy, the approved cost per child per school day is about 2,300 Leones. Therefore, feeding 460,000 pupils should cost about 1 billion Leones a day -the equivalent of around 100,000 USD a day, or 2 million USD a month.

Partners are helping too. In 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the McGovern-Dole programme, implemented by CRS, pledged an additional 28 million USD to SFP for a period of 4 years. WFP, Joint Aide Management (JAM) and PLAN International are official government partners too. In September 2020, WFP announced it was supporting 42,000 pupils in 139 primary schools in Kambia and Pujehun. WFP had also welcomed a contribution of 2.3 million USD from Japan toward SFP.

China had donated 2,850 metric tonnes of rice worth 3.6 million dollars, according to WFP. However, this rice was the object of an alleged high-level corruption case, involving former MBSSE Minister Alpha Timbo.

Challenges exist

Agnes Katta, Head Teacher at the Roman Catholic Girls Primary School in Blama, Kenema district, said that over 400 pupils in her school now receive a meal every day, which is much better than before. “I have seen a lot of improvement in attendance and concentration in class from my pupils,” she noted. However, not all the ingredients are provided for meal preparations, and parents contribute 2,000 Leones per week to help buy fish, meat, peppers, palm oil and vegetables. Teachers help prepare the meals.

“WFP gave us cooking items like rice, oil, onions, beans and salt toward the school feeding which are not even enough for complete diet, as we are dealing with kids. In order to prepare nutritious food for kids to grow stronger and healthier, we had a meeting with the parents for the remaining cooking condiments which the parents agreed on,” she said.

To ease some of the pressure and help sustainability, the school will also grow vegetables in their gardens.

All pupils need food

Before 2018, school feeding was implemented at quite a small scale, and some pupils, including those in Freetown, received meals twice a week. With the new SFP, schools on the peninsula have been cut off from feeding, to prioritize the rural areas.

Madam H. C. Samuels, Head Teacher at Buxton Girls Primary School in Freetown said that many of her pupils come to school too hungry to even speak. “Children who cannot afford to buy food have to beg from other children or their friends to be fed. Most pupils look so hungry right from the start of classes. They say they have to walk to school with an empty stomach and still without a meal,” Mrs. Samuels explained.

“The relocation of [school feeding] from Freetown to the provinces was because of the vulnerability of schools in the provinces as compared to Freetown,” said Abubakar Joe Sesay, head of the Strategic Communication Unit at the Ministry of Information and Communication. Availability of funds is a big challenge, and a recent government survey showed that Tonkolili, Falaba, Koinadugu and Pujehun are the most affected by food insecurity.

Alhaji Ezekiel S. Bangura, a class six pupil of Christ Church Primary School in Freetown said that he was so happy when he was going to school knowing that he would receive a meal and won’t be hungry. “I am pleading to the government to please bring back our meals. Our tables are empty on Tuesdays and Thursdays as we used to eat very delicious meals made by our teachers,” the child said.

“Our best option was to go where kids were more hungry,” Abubakar Joe Sesay pointed out. While poverty affects many households, Sesay explained that “some parents can at least afford a daily meal while other parents cannot, and those who cannot afford it are the kids that we are focusing on for this moment. Later on, other kids will be [included] as well,” he noted.

Mr. Samuel S. Koroma, head teacher at the Methodist City Mission Primary School said that the government has not taken into consideration that even in Freetown pupils suffer from poverty and hunger. “For a country like Sierra Leone, school feeding should be one of the major government priorities to encourage the needy children to attend school.”

Spokesperson Abubakar Joe Sesay said that “inadequate is better than nothing,” and the government is aware that many more pupils are hungry, which is why the plan is to extend the SFP when resources permit.