Programme Director Arlene Mitchell;
Honourable Ministers of Higher Education and Agriculture;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Leadership of the Global Child Nutrition Foundation;
Leadership of the World Food Programme;
Civil Society Representatives;
Officials of the Ministries of Education and Health who are here today;
Parents and Learners;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
I thank you warmly for the opportunity to address this opening session of the 16th Annual Global Child Nutrition Foundation Forum, which is the second time that it is held in South Africa.
Let me first, on behalf of the South African Government, extend a warm word of welcome to each and every one of you participating in the Forum. We are happy to welcome the Forum once again. We hope you will enjoy our beautiful country and its people.
I wish to thank the leadership of the Global Child Nutrition Foundation and the World Food Programme of the United Nations for making it possible to host this Forum here in the Republic of South Africa (RSA).
This Forum could not have come at the better time. As you may know, this year South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy. We have a good story to tell of the achievements over this relatively short period. We continue to work very hard every day to build a Better Life for All our people.
Programme Director; it will indeed be amiss if we don’t report progress in this Forum on what steps we have taken to deal with the challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty and hopelessness.
Firstly, we must admit that amidst the celebration of 20 years of democracy, peace and prosperity in South Africa, the country is still battling with the triple challenges of poverty, inequality, unemployment. This is a situation not necessarily unique to South Africa however it has defining features that are driven by history and political economy that is unique to South Africa and as a result, shapes South Africa's response to this challenge.
In response to this South Africa has developed a cocktail of policy interventions to ameliorate consequences of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Thus the overarching policy of government to address Millennium Development Goal 1 (MDG 1) is through the provision of a “social wage” package intended to reduce the cost of living of the poor. The poverty narrative and how South Africa is addressing it would therefore not be complete without discussing the unique impact of a targeted social wage on the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Social wages in South Africa are packaged in different targeted forms. In the list of these are the following: free primary health care; no-fee paying schools; feeding scheme for poor learners; social grants, (such as old age pensions, and child support grants) and RDP housing; provision of basic and free basic services in the form of reticulated water; electricity; sanitation and sewerage as well as solid waste management to households and in particular those categorised as indigent. In this regard and since 2001 the indigent household are entitled to a monthly free six kilolitres of water, fifty kWh of electricity, R50 worth of sanitation, sewerage and refuse removal.
Across the country South African local governments progressively targets the indigent households. To date some 3.5 million indigent households are receiving special attention through various forms social wage packages as I explained earlier.
Just to give you a sense of anti-poverty coverage in 2014 - South Africa's social wage system is one of the largest in Africa and it is the government's most direct means of combating poverty. Spending on social grants accounts for 3% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is projected to rise from R118-billion in 2013/14 to R145-billion by 2016. The child support and old age grants are the two largest grant programmes, constituting about 75% of total grant spending. Over the past decade, the number of social grant beneficiaries has doubled, from 7.9-million in 2003 to 15.8-million this year, largely due to an expansion of the child support grant.
Focus on Education
To further demonstrate the government resolve that basic education is the country’s apex priority, about 20 percent of government expenditure for 2014/15 will go to education, amounting to R254-billion. Access to free education in South Africa had increased sharply since the government introduced no-fee schools in 2007. According to the South African Budget Review, five-million children had access to free education in 2007. In 2014, the number increased to 8.8-million or 86% of schools were declared ‘no fee schools’. In recent years, there has also been a sharp increase in the number of children who attend Grade R, while the national school nutrition programme now feeds 8.7-million children.
Dealing with Hunger among Learners
The National School Nutrition Programme is wholly funded through the Fiscus to the tune of R5 billion Rand (about US$ 450 million) in the current financial year. School feeding in South Africa was initiated in 1994 by our international icon and founding president of the new South Africa, the now late former President Nelson Mandela. The National School Nutrition is one of the most successful programmes that touch the lives of over 8 million children daily. The theme of this Forum “Nutrition and School Feeding: Improving Nutrition by Strengthening School Feeding Programmes” epitomises this approach.
We have to collectively grow school feeding programmes that build on the innate, best talents and opportunities that are at our disposal. It is really only by working together and in synergy that local economies can thrive and quality meals provided at affordable cost to all who need it.
By purchasing food locally, school feeding programmes can support marginalised enterprises, whether it is local women Cooperatives or small-holder Farmers. School feeding can provide a consistent and stable market for these enterprises whilst at the same time providing fresh and nutritious local food.
This is in line with our government’s view that Cooperatives and Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) represent an important vehicle to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa.
We commit to work in close collaboration with the Ministries of Agriculture and the Small Business Development to explore opportunities for small-holder Farmers, Cooperatives and the SMEs to supply and distribute food in our programme.
In addition nutrition education is an essential component of our Life Orientation curriculum. Various campaigns are held using entertaining and fun ways to educate learners on good nutrition habits. In a bid to promote healthy lifestyle Physical Education is also an important subject in all schools.
Government has, therefore prioritised pro-poor strategies and programmes to ensure that every single child has the opportunity to attend school regularly. Our participation rates in schooling bear testimony to our success in this respect with 99% enrolment in primary education. As stated by His Excellency our President Mr Jacob Zuma, the government cannot achieve its education goals alone. He then made a call “to make education a societal issue”.
Through various initiatives, we have received tremendous support as a sector from other government departments, big business, civil society organisations and communities.
Once again, I wish to thank the organisers and all present most heartily for working with us over the years for the benefit of our education system, the country and its children. I believe together we can do more to address common challenges by sharing resources and expertise. We value and will continue to nurture our relationships.
I wish you success with the deliberations at this Forum over the coming days. In my opinion, learning from other countries is one of the best ways to assess and improve our own education system. I therefore encourage you to contribute to open and lively discussion and to provide new ideas for the future of school feeding schemes.
I thank you for your kind attention.