Four hundred thousand more pupils are to benefit from the Ghana School Feeding Programme, beginning the 2013/2014 academic year.
This will bring the total number of pupils benefiting under the initiative to two million. Currently, 1.6 million pupils are benefiting from the programme, which is in its eighth year.
“Various districts are submitting names of schools but we want to make sure that we do not deviate from the selection criteria. So we are taking the names and we would have a sample check to make sure that the schools we are going to select conform with the criteria that we have,” the National Coordinator of the programme, Mr S.P. Adamu, told the Daily Graphic in Accra.
According to him, from a humble beginning “we are now feeding 1,600,000 pupils from 4,920 public primary schools throughout the country”.
“So we have made some headway and we hope to clock about two million by September this year and if all goes well, the President has indicated that we would progressively increase it,” said Mr Adamu.
The challenge for the programme, he added, had been with budgetary constraints, especially this year, when the government had taken steps to boost the economy.
Hence, he said, the release of funds to various ministries had been a problem, “so the payment has been a little bit erratic”.
Funding for programme
According to Mr Adamu, GH¢200 million, the highest ever provided for the programme, had been approved by the government to cater for the accumulative figure of two million pupils.
The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, he said, was aware of this and that the allocation would be made for the programme next academic year.
He said the government of Ghana was now the sole financier of the programme after The Netherlands government withdrew its support in 2010.
However, the programme receives technical assistance from the Partnership for Child Development, the World Food Programme and SNV, a Dutch NGO.
Selection of schools
The criteria for selecting beneficiary schools include the poverty levels of areas, inability of children to go to school because they don’t have food, lack of concentration due to the lack of food and long distances pupils travel to attend school.
Mr Adamu indicated that the programme was not only to entice children to go to school but for them to remain in school.
“We want to use food to entice the children to go to school and stay there,” he said.
Preparation of meals
The national coordinator said the issue of preparing hygienic meals for pupils was of utmost importance to the government.
“Our nutrition department has taken up the challenge and we are liaising with all the nutrition officers in every district. Where they (nutrition officers) have not been involved they are now being involved as co-opted members of the District Implementation Committees (DICs) to make sure the nutritional standards are attained,” he said.
Aside that, he said, the school feeding programme was running courses and seminars to improve the nutrition aspect of the programme, and that “manuals for food hygiene are being developed for caterers so that they would maintain good hygiene”.
The manuals address issues such as the personal hygiene of the cooks, food hygiene and environmental hygiene.
Mr Adamu said the programme is being redirected to where pupils really needed support as such feeding was done in areas or villages where more pupils needed support.
“I think we have chalked up some successes there, but I won’t say it is 100 per cent,” he said.
In addition to that, he said, the school feeding programme was being linked to enhanced domestic food production by creating a kind of market for farmers for the purchase of their inputs.
Monitoring of programme
On the issue of monitoring of the programme in the districts, Mr Adamu said District Implementation Committees (DICs), chaired by the district chief executive, had been set up.
The DICs include the district directors of education, health and agriculture, a representative from the social welfare department, a chief and a desk officer, who is supposed to act as the secretary to the committee.
Mr Adamu said although these structures were in place, in some of the districts only the DCE and one or two other persons were actually working and “this is not good enough”.
Policy for programme
To address the problem, a policy to serve as a guiding principle would be put in place, said Mr Adamu.
He said if the policy was approved and adopted by Cabinet, the school feeding programme could get a law guaranteeing it a status that would then result in improved funding.