How Strategic Intervention Eliminated Over 200, 000 Out Of School Children In Osun State

By Inwalomhe Donald 

Osun State under Governor Aregbesola can now boast of recording the highest school children enrolment rate in Nigeria and the least state with lowest number of Out of School Children, OOSC, in Nigeria according to the National Bureau of Statistics. It took determination and strategic intervention to eliminate out of school children in Osun State.

Aregbesola’s strategic intervention of providing a meal per day for primary school students and free education did the magic which have increased elementary school enrolment in Osun State. Historically, the Federal Government of Nigeria initiated the Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme (HGSFHP) through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act, in 2004 but the scheme failed and it was re-introduced by Governor Aregbesola of Osun State.

In 2009, a large number of school-aged children in Osun were not attending school, and that posed a serious threat to achieving attendance goals laid out as part of Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Like many developing countries, Nigeria is facing serious challenges related to the phenomenon of out of school children.

Recent estimates show that the sub-Saharan Africa region accounts for 52% of the global out-of-school children. 22% of primary school age children in sub-Saharan African were out-of-school. Nigeria’s Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) data for 2016 in fact show that some 15.3 million children of primary school age were out of school and North East Nigeria accounting for more than 50 percent. When the junior secondary school component is taken into account, the out of school children (OOSC) problem becomes even larger, with wide regional, geographical and gender disparities across the country.  Even when enrolled, hundreds of children (especially girls) are not showing up for class. Although girls’ primary school attendance has generally been improving, this has not been the case for girls from the poorest households.

Osun State Government under Ogbeni Aregbesola has been responding through a number of strategic interventions intended to improve enrolment by addressing the issue of accessibility. Efforts are made to improve retention and achievement by improving quality, and reducing inequalities by paying greater attention to gender sensitive and inclusive policies, as well instituting more effective education management systems. Accessibility is being addressed through increased number of schools within reach of populations. Other remedial measures include provision for teacher development, making education more easily affordable, flexible programmes for children from rural communities, reduction of socio-cultural barriers and the introduction of social welfare measures.

The Osun government’s effort in the education sector has removed dilapidated school buildings and introduced conducive learning environment. Of the 100 Elementary Schools, 50 Middle Schools and 20 High Schools in the infrastructure upgrade under the first phase, government has successfully commissioned 20 Elementary Schools, 22 Middle Schools, and 7 High Schools.

The Elementary Schools have over 2000 classrooms of standard dimensions, with capacity for over 300,000 pupils between ages 6-and 9 per school, who enjoy free books, free mid-day meals and de-worming vaccines that address micronutrient deficiencies, and improve their nutritional status. And the Middle Schools, for pupils within age range of 10-14years from 3-4 kilometers catchment radius, have standard classrooms, with capacity for 900-1000 pupils per school; while high school(s), for students of 15-17years of age, have capacity for 3,000 students per school at 1,000 students per wing

Osun is taking the lead in the number of students enrolment in Nigeria, including female student, across the country. A report by the National Bureau of Statistics in Wikipedia puts Osun children’s in primary school enrolment between 70 to 80 percent. More children in Osun State are entering school and the gender gap is quickly closing as more girls make their way  to the classroom. In the 2012/2013 school year to date, the overall rate of children enrolled in primary school was 95.2 per cent (95.8 per cent for boys and 94.6 per cent for girls), showing that the gender gap at primary level has essentially been eliminated. However, these gains are undermined by persistent challenges that affect a child’s ability to stay in school. While Osun children are filling the seats in primary schools, completion rates for primary, and particularly lower secondary education, are low.

Before Aregbesola’s administration poverty pushes many  students out of school as many parents, especially in rural areas, cannot afford the direct and indirect costs related to education and families often require children to help at home with chores and field work. Lack of quality of education in schools, leading to high rates of repetition, also contributes to high dropout rates, particularly at the primary school level. Before now, Osun has witnessed low enrolment turn out in primary schools until the debut of Elementary School Feeding and Health programme of the present administration. The programme, no doubt spurs a great deal of parents and pupils into enrolling in public school in large numbers and this explains why the state towers above other states across the country.

Governor Aregbesola’s strategic plans have eliminated over 200,000 out of school children in Osun and ensured that the strategic planning process is an important form of accountability and public involvement. The process ensures Osun Education works to develop a curriculum, instruction, and assessment consistently focused on state standards and student achievement goals. The planning process allows all stakeholders including Partners like you – teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community leaders – the occasion to discuss their vision for the education of their children and the best methods for achieving that vision. The plan serves as a guide for all members of the community aimed at providing a coherent, comprehensive, and logical progression of curriculum and instruction and assessment. All stakeholders, then, can determine how their work fits into the plan and how they can support schools and students in their efforts to achieve their goals.

No fewer than 200,000 children of school age have been enrolled in public elementary schools in the state of Osun since 2013/2014 academic session to date. Osun state was ranked second state in 2009 with highest number of out of school children in the federation but today stands as best in elementary school enrolment in Nigeria following the introduction of these education oriented programmes and increase in the state government’s investment in education.

Osun is ranked 34th among the thirty-six states of the federation in terms of federal allocation did not deter Aregbesola’s administration from fulfilling his electioneering campaign promises to the people of the state, said actualization of his six point integral action plan have positively impacted on lives of people of the state.

According to Governor Aregbesola, there must be a functional education for the children of the state. The quality, sound education for the children has to take place within modern facilities. What exists in Osun in terms of educational infrastructure development is not symbolism but substance.

More than 12,000 teachers have been added to the already existing pool of teachers across the schools in the state. It is not just about physical infrastructure; the human infrastructural is also seriously taken into cognisance, for no educational system can rise above the quality of the teachers.

Inwalomhe Donald writes from Benin City

These 10 Facts About School Feeding Programme In Osun Will Amaze You …Number 10 Will Shock You

At the inception of the present government in the state of Osun in November 2010, it undertook a comprehensive review of its school feeding programme inherited from the previous administration and came up with an overhauled and rebranded programme that was officially launched on 30th April, 2012.

The Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme now known as O-MEALS is the template upon which the President Muhammudu Buhari’s Federal Government has initiated its own national school feeding programme.

However, these ten (10) facts about the state of Osun’s school feeding programme will completely amaze you.
1. The O’Meals programme currently feeds 254,000 school children in the state of Osun, the longest running in the country.

2. O’Meals currently employs 3,007 caterers, and indirectly employs 7,057 people.

3. 12.7million naira is spent daily to feed all school children for 200 school days in a year. 12billion naira has been spent so far since 2012.

4. 900 cocoyam farmers, 700 small poultry farmers, 310 catfish farmers, 63 cow markets currently benefit from the O’Meals initiative.

5. School enrollment increased from 155,318 pupils at inception to 252,739, representing a 62% increment in enrollment.

Omeals

6. 8,400 crates of eggs are consumed weekly, 336,000 crates are consumed annually and 1,344,000 crates of eggs have been consumed in four years.

7. 10 metric tonnes of fish is consumed weekly; 400 tonnes of fish is consumed annually, while 1,600 metric tonnes of fish have been consumed by pupils in 4 years.

8. 35 heads of cows are slaughtered for consumption per week, 1,400 heads of cows are slaughtered for consumption annually, while 5,600 heads of cows have been slaughtered for consumption in 4 years.

9. 15,000 birds are consumed per week, and 600,000 birds are consumed annually by the pupils. 2,400,000 birds have been consumed in 4 years.

10. 0’Meals is the longest running Government scheme of its kind in Nigeria, So far , 202,234,400 hot meals have been served in the last four years.

FG Releases N844 For School Feeding Programe In 7 States

The Federal Government has released enough funds to start the serving of one hot meal a day to more than one million primary school pupils across seven states in the country, under the National Homegrown School Feeding Programme.

This disclosure was made yesterday by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Office of the Vice President, Mr. Laolu Akande, while giving a media update on the Social Investment Programme of the Buhari administration.

Specifically, a total sum of N844, 360, 550 has so far been released for the commencement of the programme in Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Oyo, Osun, Ogun and Zamfara as at the end of last week.

According to him, while funds have been released to the seven states to kick off the programme, not all of them have actually started the implementation as at press time.

He said, “In the states of Anambra, Enugu, Osun, Ogun, and Oyo, the feeding has actually started, while it is expected to start this week in the two other states of Ebonyi and Zamfara, that have been funded already.

Osun states has built up on School feeding with the present governor on seat, he has focused all his attention on the education and how much he can make school feeding continuous in schools in Osun.

“That means, the Buhari Presidency’s Homegrown School Feeding Programme would be feeding this week a total of 1, 043, 205 pupils in those seven states.

“Equally a total number of 11,775 cooks have now been employed to prepare the meals in those states already, while local farmers in the states are also the one producing the food prepared and [email protected]

“Of all the states, Anambra, which was the first state to receive FG funding late last year has now received three full funding tranches covering 30 school days, totaling N188, 769,000. The state has a total of 937 cooks and feeding 96,489 pupils.

Credit: Today News

School Feeding Program Going on Well- FG

The Buhari presidency today gave an update on the National Homegrown School Feeding Programme and slammed critics, who claimed the programme is dogged by funding problems.

On the contrary, the government said, there are no payment issues or any kind of food rationing taking place in states where the programme has kicked off.

Laolu Akande, senior special assistant on media in the presidency said actual feeding of pupils is expected to commence this week in Ogun and Oyo States, while Ebonyi State will soon follow suit.

“While the Federal Government has paid all approved cooks based on the number of pupils allocated to each cook, it is the State that provides the number of pupils to be fed. And where those figures change, the next batch of FG payment would reflect it.

“Specifically, where the number of pupils increase, the State will communicate the increase and approve the review. The numbers of the new pupils are then physically verified, before a commensurate number of cooks are engaged, trained and then paid.

“The FG has also adopted a system where it pays the cooks a 10-day advance payment for feeding. The programme is designed to ensure that no cook feeds more than 150 pupils a day, but in some cases, the numbers are as low as 35 children per cook.

“The meal which must be sufficient and nutritious is costed around locally sourced items and approved by the State under the N70 per child provision by the Federal Government. Food quality is monitored at the school level through the head teachers, the Parent Teachers Association, PTA, and the State monitoring teams”.

According to Akande, 11 States have so far indicated their readiness to commence the school feeding programme having met FG’s criteria.

He said the Buhari administration has demonstrated its commitment to alleviate poverty and empower youths, with the progress so far recorded with the Homegrown School Feeding Programme, the N-Power Teach for unemployed graduates, the Conditional Cash Transfer for the poorest, and the GEEP.

Implementation Of School Feeding, Micro-Credit, Unemployed Graduates Job Schemes’ Reach Advanced Stages

*Programmes set to impact millions starting this month
*Pipeline Vandalism immediate cause of recession-VP

Implementation plans for the effective commencement of a number of the Social Investment programmes of the Buhari presidency has reached advanced stages as the selection of the first 200,000 unemployed graduates to get jobs is now being completed.

Speaking with a small group of Radio journalists and producers at the Presidential Villa, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN disclosed that “we expect that before the end of the month, we will engage 200,000,” out of the 500,000 unemployed graduates the Buhari administration plans to hire in the N-Power jobs programme.

According to him, the direct government jobs is meant “to keep this young people occupied, pay them some amount of money and also give them a device, which will also help them to learn several skills that they can develop as time goes on.”

Prof. Osinbajo added that “we expect that before the end of this month, we should have engaged 200,000 of them and we are hoping that before the end of the year we should have engaged more.”

Similarly, Prof. Osinbajo disclosed that the Home-Grown School Feeding programme is set to kick off in several states this month.

“Definitely before the end of this month, we expect that several states would have come on stream with their Home-grown School Feeding Programmes,” the Vice President noted.

He added that the Home-Grown School Feeding programme “will energise agriculture in the different states because it is what you plant that you feed the children with, we will be hiring caterers, cooks, etc in each state because it will be Federal Government funded from Primaries 1-3 and the state governments hopefully would be able to cater for the other classes.”

According to the Vice President, the Home-Grown School Feeding programme is another section of the Social Investment programmes that impact directly on the lives of Nigerian children and families. He said several states will start implementing the Home-grown School Feeding Programme before the end of October.
Equally he stated that the Micro-Credit scheme for which the Buhari administration will give very low-cost loans to more than one million Nigerian artisans, traders, market women and other ranging from N60,000 to N100,000 would also be kicking off this month.

According to him, “for women across the country, we are giving loans, micro credit loans to about 1.5 million women. We are focusing on market women and artisans, loans between N60,000 and 100,000 each. We are working through the Bank of Industry, BOI. They are going to be giving out these loans, we‘ve already identified the banks and everybody who is involved in this. We should be flagging-off hopefully before the end of this month”

Such soft loans to the artisans, traders and market women, according to him, is meant “to boost their businesses.”

The Vice President reassured Nigerians that the current Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari is well focused on ameliorating the plight of the citizens of the country, observing that the administration feels the pains of the citizens and is committed to assuaging them.

Said he: “We fully understand and appreciate the situation of things in the country and we are committed to ensuring that that pain is assuaged. The President stated that clearly in his October 1st broadcast to the nation. All his life, he has been a salary earner, he has never been a businessman, so he understands why someone who earns a salary and even those who do not, are severely challenged at this time of economic recession such as we are experiencing.”

On the economy, Vice President Osinbajo said government is committed to developing it, to enable citizens find opportunities within the country.

“I want to assure Nigerians that the government of President Buhari is a very focused and determined government. We are committed to ensuring that we are able to develop the Nigerian economy in such a way that Nigerians are able to find opportunities in their own country, “he said.

He listed the ‘Made in Nigeria’ project, moving away from import dependence, boosting agriculture, and encouraging manufacturing as some of the urgent actions being pursued by government in order to move the country forward.

The Vice President also emphasized the Buhari administration’s zero tolerance for corruption, as corruption is “the major drain on the country’s resources” adding that “no one would be spared in the fight against corruption because, even the close friends of the President know that they will not be spared, he will not cover for them. Fighting corruption is a priority,” he stressed.

On the current recession, the Vice President said the fall in oil prices and pipeline vandalism were the immediate causes of the recession, thus reducing drastically, the country’s revenue. But he assured that government will adequately manage the little being realised now.

“We were producing up to 2.2 million barrels a day but all of a sudden, the vandalization of our terminals caused us to loose up to a million barrels a day.

“So when you loose up to 60% of your revenue or even more, there must be a shock because you are really earning very little and we will ensure that that very little that we are earning is as well managed as possible,” he said.

National School Feeding: FG Fails To Meet September Take-Off Target

The Federal Government failed to commence its free National Home Grown School Feeding programme at the beginning of the current academic session in September as promised.

Saturday PUNCH learnt that the sharp reduction in government revenue prevented the Federal Government from meeting with the target date.

The programme, which was formally inaugurated on June 9, 2016 by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, is part of the Social Investment Plans of the present administration for which N500bn has been budgeted in the 2016 Budget.

The Federal Government, through the national manager of the programme, Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi, had in July said it would commence the scheme in September when schools resumed, with 5.5 million pupils across the country.

The promise was that the programme would benefit 5.5 million pupils in the first year of its operation, while Adesanmi had explained that the Federal Government had resolved to start the programme with pupils from Primary 1 to 3 at the beginning, and then move to other classes later.

However, the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President, Mr. Laolu Akande, blamed the drop in oil prices and oil pipelines vandalism by the Niger Delta militants for the delay in the commencement of the programme as planned.

An office headed by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection Plan, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, created for the purpose of implementing the plan which formed a major part of the All Progressives Congress’ campaign promises ahead of the 2015 presidential election is in the Office of the Vice-President.

Akande also cited the need to ensure that the beneficiary states were ready as part of the factors responsible for the delay.

He, however, assured all stakeholders that despite the setbacks, the scheme would soon kick off.

He said, “We had to first ensure there is operational readiness in the states where the programme will start. That took some of the time.

“The other reason for the delay had to do with the general drop in revenues occasioned by the drop in oil earnings.

“The economic sabotage and attacks on oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta is also a factor, which at some point, meant Nigeria was losing one million barrels per day of the 2.2mpd that had been estimated in the budget.

“But the good news is that the programme, which has been budgeted for, will take off very soon. Please note that the programme has kicked off in Kaduna State for months now and for years in Osun State.

“The steering committee, set up for social investments with presidential oversight, has recently made provision for the programme to kick off very soon.”

When told of a recent statement by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, that N60bn had been released for the programme, Akande said the sum was meant for all the components of the social investment plan, and not for the feeding programme alone.

He described the money as the first tranche of funds, saying more releases would follow.

He explained that the money would go straight to the service providers, the cooks, through banks.

On the beneficiaries, Akande confirmed that all pupils in Primary 1-3 in public schools in the first set would benefit.

Apart from Osun and Kaduna where their state governments are already implementing the feeding programme, he listed other states in the first set to include: Borno, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Sokoto, Zamfara and Oyo.

He said as the government goes ahead with the scheme and once state governments show readiness, more of them would join the programme.

According to an overview of the scheme presented at its inauguration in June, the plan runs till 2020 and forms the cornerstone of the nationwide Home Grown School Feeding programme, which when fully realised, would provide a meal a day to over 24 million primary school children.

“Not only will the Home Grown School Feeding programme help our pupils become better students, it will also boost the local economies, and create new jobs along the way,” Osinbajo had said at the inauguration.

Saturday PUNCH had in its September 3, 2016 publication reported exclusively that the reduction in Federal Government’s revenue caused by the sharp drop in global oil price was threatening the full implementation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s planned social protection programme.

Other schemes under the social protection plan include the Micro-Credit Scheme, Teach Nigeria Scheme, the Youth Employment Agency, Conditional Cash Transfer, and Free Education Scheme for Science Students.

Meanwhile, some parents from across the country have criticised the Federal Government and expressed disappointments that it failed to commence the programme in September as promised.

The parents, all of whom have children in public schools, said they were hoping that their children would benefit from the programme.

A parent in Katsina State, Mallam Nasir Manir, said, “The programme was to commence last month and the government has not told us the reason for the delay. I pray it does not end up being another campaign gimmick.”

A parent, who identified himself as Kazeem, said he was disappointed that the Federal Government failed to keep its promise to feed school pupils.

He said, “The government promised us and we were hopeful, but it has not done it. I feel it is very bad for a government to take the people for a ride because we had trust in it, but it is failing us.”

A social commentator in Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Adegbuyi, also slammed the Federal Government for not keeping to the promise, saying it should apologise to parents.

In Kwara State, Mallam Aliyu Balogun, who has four children in primary schools, doubted the sincerity of the promise when it was made by the APC, adding that the government’s failure to commence the programme in September as promised showed that he was right.

Another parent, Mrs. Joy Omosebi, called on the government to fulfil the promise “by all means.”

But the Kwara State Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers, Musa Abubakar, had during his speech on World Teachers’ Day in Ilorin, said that the school feeding programme of the Federal Government would be a “colossal waste” if not properly harnessed.

Punch

Osun: Free Meals Boost Pupils’ School Enrollment – Official

Mrs Olubunmi Ayoola, Programme officer of the Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme (O’MEAL), has said that the free meal programme in the state has boosted enrollment of pupils in public schools.

Ayoola spoke on Friday in Osogbo while receiving a delegation from Niger State on a three-day visit to understudy the O’MEAL programme of the state.
She said that the Gov. Rauf Aregbesola-led administration in the state would continue to implement the feeding programme in spite of the scarce financial resources available to the state.

“Through this programme, there has been a relative increase in pupils’ enrollment in the state public schools,’’ Ayoola said.

She said that the programme also impacted positively on the state’s economy as food vendors and farmers were empowered in the process.

In her remarks, Mrs Afiniki Dauda, Special Adviser to Niger State Governor on Empowerment and Social Protection, who led the delegation, commended Gov. Aregbesola for the programme.

She said that the programme showed the commitment of the Aregbesola-led administration to the welfare of the people of the state despite the financial crisis affecting most states.

Dauda said Osun state was a model to all other states of the federation in the area of O’MEAL.

According to her, Niger will take a cue from Osun to run a similar programme.

FG Delegation Visits Osun To Understudy Success Of O-MEALS (Photos)

A delegation of the Federal Government’s Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programme, an initiative which aims at feeding over 24 million school children nationwide is currently in Osun to understudy the success recorded by the state’s school feeding programme, O-MEAL.

FG National School Feeding Programme Delegation Visits Osun FG National School Feeding Programme Delegation Visits Osun2 FG National School Feeding Programme Delegation Visits Osun3 FG National School Feeding Programme Delegation Visits Osun4

The delegation while on a visit to Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, expressed delight at the level of organisation and success of the Osun school feeding programme.

The delegation today paid a courtesy visit to the Governor, Ogbeni @raufaregbesola at the secretariat in Abeere pic.twitter.com/1i3HbLJiga

— Government of Osun (@StateofOsun) July 14, 2016

A delegation the national school feeding programme has been on a fact finding tour in three state for the past three days.

— Government of Osun (@StateofOsun) July 14, 2016

During their 3-day visit to the state, they visited the local farmers, caterers and of course the school pupils who benefit from O-MEAL

— Government of Osun (@StateofOsun) July 14, 2016

Schools To Proceed On 2nd Term Holiday On Friday 1st April, 2016

State Of Osun Ministry Of Education, Science and Technology has directed Public and Private Schools across the State to proceed on Second Term holiday of the 2015/2016 School Calendar on Friday 1st April, 2016.

This is contained in a Press release issued by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry Of Education, Science and Technology, Mr Festus Olajide.

According to the release, principals, head teachers and proprietors of schools across the state are to comply with this directive, as it is in line with the approved school calendar for 2015/2016 School Session.

Parents and guardians are advised to take good care of their children and wards during the period of the vacation by engaging them in meaningful activities that will assist their moral, physical and
mental developments.

Parents are also advised to guide against exposing their children/wards to errands and unwholesome activities that are capable of endangering their lives.

The holiday is expected to last 3 Weeks and will end on Saturday 23rd April, 2016 while school activities which include teaching and learning for the 3rd term academic session would begin on Monday, 25th April, 2016.

Unlike Osun Omeals, Kaduna Pupils Desert Schools After Eating Free Meals

The Kaduna State Government has deplore the habit of primary school pupils in the state who desert the classrooms immediately after being served free meals.

The state’s Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Shehu Adamu, told newsmen in Kaduna that the pupils desert their schools under the guise of going to drink water.

The Commissioner stressed that the programme was introduced to encourage school enrollment, attendance and retention, adding that the government was disturbed by the situation.

While expressing concern over the desertion of schools by the pupils after taking the free meals, Adamu appealed to parents to ensure that children remain in school after taking their meals, so as not to jeopardise the programme.

Adamu said that parents must also ensure that no child returned home until closing hours, “otherwise the aim would be defeated.”

“Therefore, parents have a responsibility of ensuring that the children do not only come to school on time, but remain in school till closing hours.

“The main goal of the school feeding programme is to attract out-of-school children to school and keep them in class for them to acquire education and better their lives.

“We will not allow a situation where children will just come to school and leave the moment they finished eating their meals; if it is about water, we have already asked parents to provide water for their children.”

On the delay in paying vendors supplying food under the programme, he said they had been directed to open account with Heritage Bank through which they would be getting their payments.

The Commissioner said the bank officials would screen and capture all the vendors in their respective local government areas.

Gambia Commemorates Africa School Meals Day

By Alieu Ceesay

The Islamic Republic of The Gambia yesterday joined the rest of Africa to commemorate the first ever Africa School Meals Day in a ceremony held at the July 22nd Square in Banjul on the theme; “Fresh and Healthy Local Foods.”

The Day is meant to recognise and raise awareness on the importance of school meals as one of the powerful means of encouraging enrolment and retention of children at school. This, many believe would help in achieving the continental education goals, especially the elimination of the gender gap.

In an inaugural statement read on behalf of Her Excellency, the First Lady Madam Zineb Yahya Jammeh by Hon. Mama Fatima Singateh, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the First Lady congratulated the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, and the World Food Programme for ensuring that The Gambia joins the rest of Africa to celebrate this important day as highlighted by the African Union Heads of State and Governments.

“I am delighted to note that The Gambia took the initiative since last year to commemorate the day even before the African Union declaration, and rightfully so because we have a lot of reasons to celebrate. Our children, both boys and girls are in school and enjoying hot daily meals prepared by our dedicated women. The recent partnership with local smallholder farmers, most of whom are women is also a great milestone.”

According to her, linking small-scale farmers to school feeding programmes helps support rural economies and makes programmes more sustainable.

“Thanks to the female farmers, school children now eat fresh locally produced foods ensuring that school-going children are well nourished,” she stated, adding that good nutrition in children builds on the gains made in the crucial 1000 days from conception to two years of age.

Her Excellency Madam Jammeh averred that School Feeding Programme could contribute to having healthy and well-educated children with the complimentary efforts of teachers, and an environment conducive to learning.

She added; “Schools are the centre of many villages and communities and school meals have the potentials to bring together many sectors including the public and private sectors.”

School meals, she went on go far beyond just filling the bellies of the children. “It can break the cycle of hunger, poverty, and improve growth, cognitive capacity and the general wellbeing of the child.

“While we continue to promote our local economies through the home grown school meals, we must commit to investments that improve the food and nutrition security of our communities,” Madam Zineb Jammeh indicated.

Poverty reduction through inclusive economic growth, according to the First Lady is key to eliminating hunger and malnutrition. She therefore urged all to contribute to the sustainability of the school meal programme. “School meals are a critical safety net and vital investment in the future of our children and the country at large,” she said.

Dr Ajaratou Fatou Lamin Faye, Minister of Basic and Secondary Education, said food is indispensable for human survival and therefore government’s campaign against hunger, particularly in schools would continue unabated.

“Cognisant of this crusade, The Gambia Government initiated a home grown school feeding programme since 2012, which aims to ensure that all school going children are provided with a meal at school by using locally grown items.”

The significance and relevance of the theme of the commemoration, she said cannot be over emphasised, as it does not only reinforce vehicle for cultural renaissance. “The theme underlines the significant clarion call of President Jammeh, Babili Mansa for us to ‘grow what we eat and eat what we grow,” Dr. Faye noted.

World Food Programme representative in The Gambia, Victoria Ginja said

several studies show that it is more difficult for the children to learn without adequate food and nutrition. “We can all testify that it is not easy to learn on an empty stomach. Our children must therefore eat nutritious and healthy meals every single day.”

The day, she said is also an opportunity to commemorate the achievements of the homegrown school meals programme and to advocate for expansion and accessibility of the programme.

Madam Ginja seized the opportunity to congratulate the Government of The Gambia for its commitment and prominent role in school meals programme by allocating financial resources that is currently covering all the regions.

The event was preceded by a march past by school going children.

Gambia Observer