DBE Deputy Director-General, Dr Granville Whittle, along with a delegation of senior managers, briefed the Portfolio Committee (PC) on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) on 16 May 2023. The PC requested a briefing on the Programme that provides daily meals to 9.6 million learners and is funded through a Conditional Grant of R9.8 million rand per annum, following the school feeding challenges in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). School meals provide a safety net for vulnerable children and have been proven to increase school attendance figures.
COVID-19 has exacerbated hunger in communities, with unemployment, poverty and food insecurity increasing the demand for learner feeding across all nine provinces. The Programme was transferred from the Department of Health to the then Department of Education in 2002 for primary schools; however, the programme was extended to secondary schools between 2009 – 2011. The NSNP menu has evolved in Quintiles 1 – 3 and special schools with menu specifications for the daily intake of protein, starch, fruit and vegetables. There is pressure to include needy learners in Quintiles 4 – 5, as well as Early Childhood Development (ECD) learners in the future.
During 2016, an Implementation Evaluation of the NSNP was undertaken with the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) to improve the menu and to consider breakfast at the start of the school day. Daily breakfasts are currently provided in the Gauteng, Western Cape and Free State Provinces with the support of partners such as the Tiger Brands Foundation, Kellogg's SA, PepsiCo/Pioneer Foods, Nestle and Siqalo for these breakfasts to be rolled out to all PEDs during the 2023/24 financial year. A chicken liver programme was piloted and rolled out in the Gauteng and Western Cape Provinces to provide good quality protein with Vitamin A and Iron. The extension of this programme is also anticipated.
According to the NSNP Conditional Grant Framework, funds are disbursed to Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) to procure goods and services to implement the NSNP and provide human resources capacity such as Volunteer Food Handlers and Chief School Monitors. There are currently two procurement models: the Decentralised Model where provinces transfer funds directly to schools for procurement of food, which include the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and the North-West Provinces. The remaining schools follow a Centralised Model where service providers are appointed to assist. The DBE supports PEDs through the facilitation of annual Food Safety Workshops aimed at promoting proper food handling practices such as delivery and storage; warehouse monitoring; accredited food safety and hygiene training; and kitchen compliance with food safety regulations.
The DBE is envisaging the modernisation of the NSNP, along with a new model to take advantage of economies of scale with a modern stock management system; better compliance to food quality standards; quality assurance; monitoring digitization; and Local Economic Empowerment of women, youth and people with disability. Dr Whittle was of the opinion that both procurement models are inefficient. “This presents the DBE with an opportunity to be innovative; we need to build a model where all children can benefit from the NSNP. Internal and external investigations are still underway. An additional challenge was that the province has high feeding numbers (85%), in addition, the province is facing instability and capacity challenges. Service providers also often underestimate the size of the Programme. Too few evaluations and research have been undertaken on school feeding in South Africa and no baseline survey data exists. The benefits of school feeding are obvious, with no need to qualify impact, but only to monitor efficient and cost-effective delivery. However, best practice and impacts could be assessed to assist with the process of modernisation.
PC Chairperson, Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, reiterated that the challenges faced with the NSNP in KZN impacted directly on the health and feeding of the South African child, which is linked to school attendance. In addition, the PC agreed that the Programme is a National Programme and that the national department should take full responsibility for the national implementation of the Programme.