Developing African countries face numerous socioeconomic challenges, including high levels of illiteracy, poverty and unsustainable energy sources.
There are numerous interventions to alleviate some challenges. These initiatives take different forms—donations, grants, projects and programmes—depending on the financier’s interest.
Some donors are interested in education interventions while others climate change, gender equality, enhanced livelihoods and health.
School-feeding programmes have received attention in Malawi. Learners in public primary schools take porridge on school days.
In some cases, children are given take-home rations every week.
Studies in Malawi and neighbouring countries credit the school-feeding programmes with increasing enrolment, attendance and performance of learners in target schools.
The programmes reduce absenteeism, stimulate class attentiveness and improve the learner’s nutrition status of learners in all classes.
Evaluations by World Food Programme (WFP) and Mary’s Meals Malawi in target schools attest to increases in enrollment once a school starts offering learners porridge.
Therefore, the importance of school-feeding in Malawi cannot be overemphasised as it helps reduce school dropout rates due to hunger and poverty where parents cannot afford breakfast for children in school.
No learner can concentrate in class on an empty stomach; hence, the programme is a blessing to learners who otherwise would have gone to school hungry.
Well-nourished learners concentrate in class, attend school regularly and tend to perform better than their malnourished peers.
As such, parents need to be reminded of their inescapable responsibility to feed their children as they go to school, regardless of whether the school offers free porridge or not.
Sadly, some parents now shun their parental obligation because the nearest school provides free porridge.
However, not all primary schools in the country provide porridge to learners.
This is because most school-feeding programmes remain donor-driver and donors select schools they want to support.
Some of the criteria include enrollment, school accessibility to main roads and gender ratios. As such, some deserving schools are excluded due to donor budget limitations and timelines.
While school feeding programmes have numerous advantages, they are not sustainable because they remain heavily donor-dependent.
Once the donor pulls out, that marks the end of school feeding.
It is high time the programmes were enhanced by integrating local food rations with those received from the donors overseas.
The government needs to take the lead to ensure that the meals provided in public primary schools cover all deserving schools.
School meals should be sustained by communities in collaboration with district councils, which now govern the provision of basic education in the wake of decentralisation.
Donors feel that local smallholder farmers can hardly supply the quantity and quality of foodstuffs needed in school-feeding programmes.
However, smallholder farmers, if well organised in cooperatives and given required support in form of farm inputs and drilled in crop production, can supply a greater proportion of the required food items.
Political will to empower smallholder farmers to supply food items to schools remains paramount in strengthening the sustainability of the programmes and uplifting Malawian farmers.
Appreciably, school-feeding programmes by some donors have already started empowering communities around schools to produce local foods to supplement imported supplies.
However, this is being done at a small-scale and remains unsustainable in case of donor fatigue.
Proper laws and policies regulating school-feeding programmes in Malawi need to be adopted to safeguard the interests of local food suppliers without compromising on quality and quantities required.