It becomes a matter of concern for most communities when children are no longer going to school due to lack of motivation which is sometimes caused by various factors, including hunger.
Just like most schools in the country, since its establishment in 1997, Mwachentche Primary School in Kapazanje Village, Traditional Authority Chiseka in Lilongwe has been registering increased numbers of dropouts, both boys and girls.
Head teacher Gladson Ligomeka confirmed the development, saying when they enrol most learners quit school because they normally go there on an empty stomach which left them with no thirst for education.
“To be honest, no child can concentrate in class on an empty stomach. Food has been a motivator in various cases, including education, and it is only a child who is full that can do well in class and contribute to the development of Malawi,” he said.
Following the outcry by the community, the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (Fisd), with funding from the Government of Japan, built a solar-powered irrigation system to help the community to sustain a feeding programme at the school.
Fisd provided extension services to the school garden committee which comprises six members.
The committee’s chairperson Rhoda Chifulatira narrated how the committee has worked tirelessly to make sure the home-grown school feeding programme is a success.
“As members of the community, we decided to form a committee to look at the affairs of the garden to avoid chaos if every member of the community is left with the responsibility.
“But when things become hectic, we always rely on others to help us and it has been a success. We do come from Monday to Friday to look after the crops which include maize, onion, eggplants among others, and after harvest we sell them to get necessary items for learners to be eating porridge at the school,” she said.
Committee member MistoniKambuzi said Fisd has been helpful when it comes to sourcing markets for the produce.
“During our first sales, we had readily available markets which made it easy for us as we sold all our produce at good prices and we bought maize and other stuffs for the porridge,” he said.
Kambuzi added that being a parent whose children are at the school, he thought it wise to be part and parcel of the committee that has helped to turn things around in the community.
After hearing different stories of how the feeding programme has flopped in some schools, he said “the community is aware of the benefits the programme will bring to their society and the future of their children; hence, they are ready to contribute to its success and not failure.”
The 2008 Ministry of Education’s School Health and Nutrition Strategy advocates for the provision of school meals with the goal to scale up school meals to all schools in Malawi by 2040.
The school-feeding programme was introduced in the country in 1999 to increase enrolment and retention of learners in school which has been a major problem in the education sector.
Fisd programmes director KondwaniNanchukwa said with problems associated with climate change, solar power has been one of the best ways of sustaining irrigation programmes.
“Unlike the normal irrigation practices, solar power is the best as it can provide water anytime. And for the school-feeding programme to be sustainable, we need practices that will enhance the home-grown school meals,” he said.
Chief nutrition officer in the Department of School Health and Nutrition PickmoreSwira said aside achieving some of its intended objectives, the school-feeding programme has faced a lot of challenges.
“Education is the only way for our communities to develop and it starts from primary school. We need more children to be enrolled in schools and also remain in school and the school-feeding programme has proved to be one way of achieving these.
“However, the programme has not received much donor support which has led to most schools not having implemented the programme. A lot has not been invested in it as a centralised programme and that is why we need more organisations to help government in averting some of the challenges it is facing,” he said.
The heads of State and government of the African Union Assembly in 2016 established March 1 as the African School Feeding Day, a decision which recognised school feeding as an important instrument for ensuring inclusive development, gender, health and inclusion in education, especially for poor, socially marginalised and economically constrained communities.
The assembly noted that home-grown school-feeding programmes in particular are gaining traction as they aim to promote local economic development and agricultural transformation through establishing linkages between the school feeding programme’s demand for food and the supply of locally grown food.
The implementation of the school-feeding programme is in line with the Africa Agenda 2063 and Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 4 which indicate the need for countries to achieve food security and improved nutrition and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.
To date, about 35 percent of school-going children benefit from the school-feeding programme in the country.