A girl at Nalwei Basic School in Western Zambia eats her school meal. Photo: WFP/Mark Maseko
Every day thousands of Zambian children go to school hungry because they come from poor homes. This hinders their ability to concentrate and learn. What is even worse is that some children are unable to attend school altogether because they are needed by their families to help with work or to search for food.
The World Food Programme (WFP) in Zambia is taking action to reverse this situation by implementing a School Meals Programme in targeted government and community schools. Every day, 300,000 children receive a hot nutritious meal of High Energy and Protein Supplement (HEPS) porridge mixed with vegetable oil. While WFP provides food and other non-food items, partners like the Zambian Ministry of Health and the World Vision organisation provide de-worming and iron supplement tablets. Children are de-wormed every six months to ensure they remain healthy. Not only do the hot meals give the children much needed nutritional support - they also act as an incentive for them to attend school. The provision of micronutrient fortified food and the conduct of de-worming drives help the children get the most out of school as well as enhancing their cognitive abilities. So far, the programme is deemed a success, not only in the educational sphere but also because it is helping boost household incomes. The School Meals Programme is currently transitioning into the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF) which will be implemented in partnership with the Zambian Government's Ministry of Education. The programme is expected to target one million school children by 2015. Food under this initiative will be sourced exclusively from local communities where the supported schools are located. Linking school feeding programmes with local small-scale agricultural production will create a predictable and assured market for small landholders, adding further economic benefits to the programme. All this has attracted considerable attention from both donors and government...hence the request to transition to HGSF. The Zambian Government, through the Sixth National Development Plan (SNDP) 2011 to 2015, has identified school feeding as a strategy essential to achieving quality Early Childhood Care, Development and Education and Basic Education. The decision to source food from local communities should help move the programme from being one that needs external support to one that is self-sufficient and nationally-owned. In a recent speech, WFP Zambia Representative and Country Director Pablo Recalde gave his views on the importance of education. “Education beats poverty and hunger in the long term,” said Mr. Recalde. “Evidence shows that every additional year children spend at school leads to a 5% increase in their future wages.” School meals act as a social safety net to combat poverty. As there is often not enough food at home, school feeding is a good way to channel vital nourishment to poor children. Successful implementation of this programme should go a long way towards helping Zambia attain Millennium Development Goals numbers 1 and 2 - eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and achieving universal primary education.