As we celebrate the annual National Nutrition Week on 09-15 October 2013, this provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that face many learners; assess whether interventions towards addressing challenges such as poverty, inequality and lifestyle diseases are adequate and to highlight successes of the National School Nutrition Programme.
The 2012 Global Hunger index states that SA is ranked 9th in the world for highest hunger levels. 12% of SA children are underweight, 5% wasted and 27% stunted this results in cognitive impairments. The ability of these children to achieve at school is minimal. The National Development Plan indicates that measures will need to be in place to eradicate deficiencies in micronutrients to ensure that all children have sufficient food and nutrition.
A common adage that “a child cannot learn on an empty stomach” rings true, however, the Department of Basic Education has made inroads in implementing the school nutrition programme successfully nationwide to address this challenge. The impact has been quite significant as stated in the Macro indicator trends in Schooling: Summary Report, 2011 that there has been an increase in the number of ECD and Grades R- 9 learners attending school from 96% in 2002 to 99% in 2009. In response, the DBE has also adopted the Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL), an Ecological Systems approach to understanding and addressing barriers to education for children in South Africa. It identifies societal barriers such as poverty, unemployment, inadequate care-giving arrangements, child labour and violence against children and HIV and AIDS as potential risks towards child’s protection. Nutritional Support is one of the key priority areas that can provide a safety net for care and support of all learners (CSTL Conceptual Framework, DBE and MIET Africa, 2010).
The school nutrition programme was introduced by the former President, Mr Nelson Mandela as part of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Until 2003, the programme was administered by the Department of Health formerly known as the Primary School Nutrition Programme targeting only primary school learners. When taking over the programme in April 2004, it was renamed the National School Nutrition Programme by the Department of Education (DoE) after intense review. The key objectives of NSNP are (i) to enhance learning capacity through school feeding which promotes school attendance and levels of concentration; (ii) to promote and strengthen nutrition education for school-communities for life skills and (iii) to promote and support food gardens in schools. The NSNP is funded through a Conditional Grant allocated to provincial education departments according to the Division of Revenue Act (DORA). Recommended meals include fresh fruit/vegetables served daily varying between green and yellow/red on a weekly basis; a variety of protein served per week in line with approved menu options; soya not be served more than twice a week; served at least once a week; high quality protein products can replace pilchard in areas where it is not socially acceptable; whole powdered milk may be used in areas where fresh milk/maas is unavailable.
Results of the NSNP evaluation published by the Public Service Commission in March 2008 has shown that school feeding programmes foster quality education by alleviating short-term hunger and providing an incentive for children to attend school regularly and punctually as well as addressing certain micro-nutrient deficiencies thus enhance children’s learning capacity.
Some significant progress has been made with the National School Nutrition Programme between 2004 to 2013, which include, among others:
- facilitating human resource capacity at national, provincial and district levels where it did not exist (a zero base);
- an increased budget from R832 million in 2004 to R5 billion (2013) ;
- over 8 million beneficiaries up from 4 million in 2004;
- an average feeding cost of R2.60 and R3.46 in primary and secondary schools respectively, up from R1.50;
- job creation of 27 752 volunteers to 45 000 with progressive increase in their stipend at R840 up from R400;
- resourcing cooking equipment and utensils where non-existent;
- nutrition awareness/campaigns and resourcing in Learner Support Material (LTSM) to support curriculum through provision of manuals, posters and lesson plans on nutrition; training workshops, procured vegetable tunnels, posters and Manual on how to grow food;
- Strong business support for mobile kitchens, breakfast programme, eating utensils among others.
This also highlights the work done by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) towards nutrition education, a key pillar of the NSNP, which aims to raise awareness and promote healthy lifestyles.
Over the past two to three years, the Department has increasingly devolved NSNP funds directly to schools, enabling the procurement of food stuffs at this level. This has resulted in better quality meals and accountability, as well as growing local economic activity (including women cooperatives) who become suppliers to schools.
Over 3 624 service providers, 382 local community-based cooperatives and 3 072 small-medium micro enterprises (SMMEs) were contracted to the programme in the 2012/13 financial year. At the same time, 54 096 unemployed members of local communities, mostly women, receive a small stipend for cooking and serving meals to learners.
The NSNP will not be complete without promoting knowledge on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, one of the key pillars of the programme. The Nutrition Education content in the curriculum is re-enforced through campaigns and special events. A key highlight in the calendar is the annual National Nutrition Week which is celebrated in October. Sports, Arts and Industrial theatre are used to demonstrate key message throughout the week.
Each school is encouraged to cultivate a food garden where learners gain knowledge and skills in growing crops. To date, the Department has supported the establishment of 6 379 food gardens (2012 audit). The produce from the gardens is used to supplement the school meals, as well as provide needy learners with parcels. Working with the Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, and partners, we envisage further expansion to more schools; thus contributing to the poverty alleviation and sustainable development initiatives of government.
In response to a call of “making education a societal issue” by the President, Mr Jacob Zuma, the business sector and civil society organizations have responded to support the school nutrition programme. Collaboration with other government departments has also grown. We are indebted to all our partners who continue to add to our efforts to extend the reach and service levels.
The National School Nutrition Programme is a flagship programme of the Department and of government. It touches over 8, 8 million young South Africans in a tangible, positive way every single day of school. This is no mean feat!
It has taken the single minded vision of our leaders, the committed hard work of many officials at all levels of our system, as well as strong partnerships to deliver the gains we have achieved. We strive to reach the highest level of service possible. Together, this is our promise.