Schools brace for food insecurity




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CHILDREN are still on vacation, but when the thought of the opening of schools crosses the mind of Precious Kandori, a widowed mother of three from Mutare’s Zimta Park, she gets crestfallen.

NATHAN GUMA

Normally, her major concern has always been money for school uniforms and other necessities, but the El Niño-induced drought has brought her a new worry, food.

“My child used to be given food, but now they do not get anything. They will be going back to school, but it’s difficult. There is a drought, and everything is not well, and money is scarce! It is difficult to know how I will make ends meet. I do piece jobs, usually cleaning houses for people and others. It is just difficult to get to think how this will come out and end,” Kandori told The NewsHawks.

Zimbabwean schools are facing acute food insecurity, with countrywide findings by a new survey showing that the majority of schools do not have active feeding programmes, amid a blighting drought.

For Kandori, there is nothing more important than sending her children to school so they can have a better future, despite the challenges.

“My hope is that everything goes well for my children. All I want is for them to do well and finish school so they have a better future,” Kandori said.

Learners are also frantic about the drought’s effect on their food security.

“We do not get food at school, but I will continue going to school despite that, in order for me to have a better future,” said Tadiwanashe Nyarumwe, a Form 1 learner from St Josephs’ High School in Zimta Park, Mutare.

A survey by the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) titled Zim Pulse on Universal Access to Education has shown that only 17% of the sampled schools in the country’s 10 provinces have feeding programmes while the remaining 83% have none, due to a lack of resources.

In Mashonaland Central province, for instance, there are no active programmes in Shamva, Mountain Darwin and Bindura, with no indication as to when the schemes will be rolled out.
In the Midlands province, there are no feeding programmes, according to surveys conducted in Kwekwe, Mberengwa and Gweru, while Masvingo province had programmes in Masvingo Urban only while districts like Gutu and Zaka have none.

Matebeleland South province registered programmes in Beitbridge, while Matobo has none, while in Matabeleland North there was a programme in Hwange, while there are none in Victoria Falls, Lupane and Nkayi.

“Providing nutrition for learners can contribute towards better outcomes for them in education as well as narrow the gap between disadvantaged learners and their more privileged counterparts.

School feeding is a social safety net that even contributes to improving the health of learners,” Artuz said.

“Interviews held with teachers whose learners have benefitted from schools’ feeding programmes in the past support the theory that improved nutrition can contribute towards the ability to concentrate. School heads also testified to the fact that the programmes can also draw more children to school because they will be guaranteed one meal a day.”

“Interviews reviewed that in schools where the programme is successful, the parents contribute the food items that are used. Administrators through interviews stated that schools have no money to buy food and pay the cooks. Lack of cooking units, kitchen utensils, energy sources and manpower were mentioned as major stumbling blocks for the feeding scheme.”

Home-Grown Feeding Programme
The government, however, says the school feeding programme is already ongoing through the Home-Grown Feeding Programme (HGSFP) designed for learners like Nyarumwe.
It is a system where the community produces a wide variety of food crops to be used in preparing school meals for learners such as sugar beans, vegetables, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and fish.

“The schools’ feeding programme is currently ongoing. We have the Home-grown-based system, whereby a school may have its own resources, for example, poultry, maize and others, which will be used to feed learners at schools. Government also chips in to provide some of the resources,” Taungana Ndoro, the director of information in the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, told The NewsHawks.

“Some schools provide this food to orphans and vulnerable children and, in some instances, some schools that are well resourced provide meals for all the children.”

Added Ndoro: “The home-based feeding programme has been very successful, with or without the El Niño weather condition. In fact, it has encouraged children to come to school because at least they will be guaranteed a hot meal. We are going to make sure that the project continues to help learners in schools.”

However, Rob Chere, the Artuz secretary-general, countered Ndoro’s comments, arguing that the feeding programme has not been successful, due to a shortage of resources.

“Learners are having a hard time as they are coming from homes hungry and not getting anything when they get to school. We have had cases of a student that fainted in Hurungwe and we would not want the same to happen. We would like our learners to enjoy their right to education,” Chere said.

“We urge government to promote the growing of food by schools which will help them feed students on their own. When we last had a meeting with the Education minister, schools were yet to receive resources from the government for the feeding programme. This year, no school has received resources for the programme between January and March. So it is a lie to assume that the Home-Grown Feeding Programme has been a success.”

More than 2.7 million Zimbabweans face food insecurity in 2024, with projections by the United Nations Children Education Fund estimating that a quarter of all children are suffering from stunting or wasting.

Wasting has been on the rise of late, significantly increasing during the lean season of 2022–2023, from 4.5% in 2020 to 7.2% in 2022, the highest prevalence in the last 15 years. Stunting and wasting prevalence has been pegged at 26% and 4% respectively.

On 3 April, President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a state of national disaster due to drought, with the country requiring in excess of US$2 billion towards various interventions.
Independent organisations have however been helping young learners from underprivileged families access food in the face of drought.

For instance, the Educate Zimbabwe’s Children (EZC) organisation has introduced a feeding programme to nine primary schools and seven ECD (early childhood development) centres in Makonde district, feeding over 5 000 children every day.

Each child is given half a litre of traditional Zimbabwean porridge-based drink called mahewu (a mix of maize-meal, sorghum, milk solids, lactic acid and sugar) fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, sourced from a local supplier using maize from small farm holdings.

In Murewa, the Orphan Guardian Angel (OGA), an organisation run by United States-based Zimbabwean nurse Mollin Ziwira, has also been providing meals to young people in rural communities who are undergoing a sewing training programme.

Source: News Hawk