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COVID-19 Pandemic: Osun School Feeding As A Strategy Against Malnutrition

By Inwalomhe Donald Osun School feeding programme introduced by Rauf Aregbesola has become a model to feed school children in the fight against coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria. The directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to use the school feeding programme of his administration to cushion the spiralling effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on children across the…”
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May 15, 2020 1:43 pm

By Inwalomhe Donald

Osun School feeding programme introduced by Rauf Aregbesola has become a model to feed school children in the fight against coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria. The directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to use the school feeding programme of his administration to cushion the spiralling effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on children across the country has reposition Rauf Aregbesola’s vision for Osun school feeding programme which is a strategy to fight malnutrition and a reference point for school feeding in the fight against coronavirus pandemic.

The Federal Government is to spend over N13.154 billion on the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme that commenced on Thursday, 14th May 2020 with the flag-off ceremony in Abuja.

Although school children are at home with schools shut as a result of the pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari via a March 29th, 2020 pronouncement directed the Honourable Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to liaise with state governments to develop strategies on the continuation of the school feeding programme.

The Ministry in consultation and collaboration with state governments identified the distribution of Take-Home Rations (THR) to the households of the children on the programme as a feasible method of achieving this directive after exploring several options.

 

This is a globally accepted means of supporting children to continue to have access to nutrient-rich foods despite disruptions to the traditional channels of school feeding.

The target beneficiaries are defined as children in primary 1 to 3 in public schools participating in the programme. A total of 3,131,971 households are targeted for this intervention.  “Each household will receive uncooked food items that have been assessed and approved by nutrition experts as adequate for the children.

Over 6,000 schools will serve as distribution centers for clusters of communities except in some states with unique security and safety issues where other structures will be used.

In the fight against poverty in Nigeria, the Federal Government (FG) has tried many social welfare programs, from the N-Power jobs scheme for youths to TraderMoni, which gives micro-loans to petty traders. But none are as ambitious as the Home-Grown School-Feeding (HGSF) program introduced by Rauf Aregbesola which aims to provide a free meal to every primary school student in the federation.

But the HGSF is not an original idea; it has been used in Osun State for the best part of the last decade. And what looks simple (giving free meals to schoolchildren) is actually one of the most complex and impactful social welfare schemes in the world.

Rauf Aregbesola has taught Nigerians that School-feeding programs have common objectives: improve child nutrition and classroom performance, increase enrolment rates, and, in low-income countries, boost the local economy by sourcing food through local suppliers. This sounds like a lot, but there is enough evidence to show that school-feeding programs are pretty successful.

No matter the economic impact of the O-meals programme, the acid test is its effect on schooling. So, did it work? Yes. The proportion of out-of-school children in Osun State fell from 12.8% in 2011 to 0.5% in 2017. Furthermore, there was a 60% jump in enrolment rates over the same period, with Osun State now having one of the highest enrolment rates in Nigeria. Overall, the program grew from serving 155,000 children at inception to over 350,000 children in all 1,382 public elementary schools in the state.

The O-Meals program was so successful that it partly inspired the FG decision to resurrect it. The way school-feeding works in Nigeria is that although the FG drives the program, it is the state’s prerogative to implement.

Over the past few years, as many as twenty-five states understudied the O-meals program, and many have so far adopted similar initiatives, to varying degrees of success. Meanwhile, the PCD enshrined the legacy of O-Meals as a social welfare tool in Nigeria by including it in its first Global School Feeding Sourcebook (2016), where it uses fourteen countries as case studies of how to successfully implement school-feeding programs anywhere in the world.

In the document, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of The World Bank at the time, highlighted case studies like Osun State as “good examples of how school feeding programs in low income countries are implemented in a cost-effective and sustainable way to benefit and protect those most in need”.

Sincerely, I want to appeal to the 36 states of the federation to introduce free feeding systems in primary schools involving nutritional food. In this wise, what the other 35 states need to do is to understudy and adopt the school feeding scheme, which Osun State started in 2012 and Christened O’ Meal. The Osun example is part of a programme of producing healthy, energetic and intelligent pupils by giving them balanced diets needed for their bodies and minds to grow. In a week, more than 352, 000 pupils take nourishing foods and fruits that are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and other food nutrients.

Of particular interest is the introduction of red cocoyam, which nutritionists have confirmed contains a high content of proteins. The government of Osun was able to go this far because it involved nutritionists and medical experts in the formulation of the food pack before the free feeding scheme finally took off.

The Osun example has ignited a revolutionary job creation opportunity, enhanced education through increased enrolments and other benefits. Certainly, feeding over 350,000 children daily with locally sourced food materials cannot but be impactful on agriculture, supply chains and other sectors with direct or remote relationships.

Former Governor of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola was invited to the British Parliament to deliver a talk on how Osun was executing its free meal programme, it was obvious that something worthy of being studied had been noticed beyond the confines of the Nigerian state. Malnutrition is a term used to indicate a general condition of less than normal physical and mental vigor.

While the causes of malnutrition are many, incorrect or inadequate diet appears all too often as one of the causes. School feeding, which affords not only an opportunity, to supplement the home food supply but also to teach correct food habits, becomes a most valuable agency in combating the condition.

Former Governor Aregbesola, has played key role in national school feeding programme to improve health. Any nutritional imbalance poses serious health problems, particularly to children – between the suckling age up to ten years. It goes without saying that children need high calories and balanced diets for bodily growth and mental formation. A balanced diet is one that gives the body the nutrition it needs to function properly. An inadequacy or imbalance in diet causes malnutrition.

Among the measures taken by the Governments of many countries in  the face of the rapid expansion of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the closure of schools and, therefore, the suspension of school feeding programs. These programs currently benefit 85 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean. For about 10 million, they constitute one of the most reliable daily sources of food.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the suspension of school feeding programs will pose a challenge to the food security and nutritional status of many children, especially those from the most vulnerable groups.

FAO pointed out that, for any action taken by governments, all measures recommended by national and international health authorities should be taken into consideration to stop the spread of COVID-19. “Social protection systems, for example, can play a key role in guaranteeing the food security of the most vulnerable population in the coming weeks,” explained Berdegué.

As a result of school closures, 350 million children around the world are missing out on school meals. For many of them, a school meal may be their only nutritious meal during the day. The world needs to find alternative solutions, fast. The Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme now known as O-MEALS is the  one of the few surviving school meal programmes in the country. It was formerly known as the Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme (HGSFP) .

This has now been restructured and enhanced by the administration of  the State of Osun, to reach a larger number of  students (254,000) and to empower  over 3000 community caterers. The programme was initiated by the Federal Government in 2004 through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act. On assumption of office, the present administration undertook a comprehensive review of the inherited school feeding arrangement and came up with an overhauled and rebranded programme that was officially launched on the 30th April 2012. Implementation in primary schools is ongoing throughout the State.

The key areas of improvement undertaken by the current administration are,  inclusion of elementary year 4 , thereby increasing beneficiaries to 354,000, Capacity Development  and Empowerment 3007 Community Caterers , Backwards Integration to  Local Markets and  Process Improvements.

This scheme has gained international endorsement as well. In November 2012, Partnership for Child Development (PCD) United Kingdom and the Government of the State of Osun signed the Osun Elementary School Feeding Transition Strategy Plan Document to further strengthen the programme.

O-MEALS aims to reverse the very low academic performance of pupils noting that good nutrition is necessary for development of cognitive skills. Osun school feeding is providing the template to go ahead with the feeding of school children captured in its Home Grown School Feeding Programme, NHGSFP, even when schools were still shut down as a result of coronavirus pandemic.

Inwalomhe Donald writes via [email protected]

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