Schools struggle to feed learners as food prices continue to soar

Pupils of Canaan CTC Day and Boarding Primary School in Njeru-Buikwe District line up for breakfast on Monday. PHOTO / DENIS EDEMA

What you need to know:

  • Some schools have resorted to matooke or cassava, which are relatively cheaper to feed the learners while are rationing food to sustain their budgets for the second term, which officially closes on August 12.

School administrators are struggling to feed learners due to the sharp rise in prices of maize flour, which is the main ingredient of most meals prepared in schools across the country.

A kilogramme of maize flour, which was costing Shs1,200 at the beginning of the year, now sells between 3,500 and Shs4,000.

Some schools have resorted to matooke or cassava, which are relatively cheaper to feed the learners while are rationing food to sustain their budgets for the second term, which officially closes on August 12.

According to Mr Leonard Ssali, the head teacher of St Noa Mawaggali SS -Mbiko in Buikwe District, feeding learners is becoming difficult yet the school lacks funds to pay the suppliers.

“At the beginning of this year, the supplier used to sell 1kg of maize flour at Shs1,500, but it now costs Shs3,500. There is no money to pay the supplier because many parents are defaulting on their school fees obligation,” Mr Ssali says.

“We are cutting the term  II  budget by omitting planned activities such as sports day, and inter-house music competitions to see if the available funds can enable us to buy food which can take us for the remaining months,” he adds.

A similar measure has been done at St Joseph SS, Nakanyonyi in Jinja City. 

“We cannot increase the fees in the middle of the term because we already set the fees structure,’’  Mr Moses Kisubi, the head teacher, says.

 Mr Herbert Ntende, the head teacher of Kiige Primary  School in Kamuli District, says food is one of the things they use to attract the children, but it is currently hard to get.

Food rationing

“We now ration the food, reduce the amount to cover the week and are strict to only those who have paid at least half the fees to reduce the numbers [to ensure the food lasts],” he says.

Other schools, especially those with boarding sections buy low-quality maize flour, which they serve during lunch and reserve the good quality for supper.

Ms Sarah Batolewo, the head teacher of  Kibuye Primary School in Kamuli District,  says they are lucky that a Korean NGO provides free food to 16 schools in the district, which has helped them maintain school attendance and raise enrolment.

“Even children in the community sneak in during lunchtime to get free food and we don’t chase them,” she says.

Mr Mathias Isanga, a businessman in Kamuli Town, says the situation is likely to worsen in the coming months since the maize planted in the first season has been scorched by the dry conditions.

“Schools should brace for harsh food prices as the harvest will be poor this season,” he warns.

At Kiira College Butiki, the management has resolved to put an additional payment on the third term’s school fees to compensate for the increased expenditure on food. “We shall talk to parents and ask them to at least top-up Shs15,000 on next term’s fees to recover the unexpected expense on feeding arising from high prices for food,’’ a member of the school management committee, who preferred anonymity, says.

He says they have asked the supplier to continue giving them food in the same quantities as agreed in the contract to adequately feed the students.

In Lango Sub-region, many school administrators admit that the cost of running boarding sections is too high due to increasing prices of maize flour.

“We are not feeding our children in boarding well because the maize is not available and the cassava we provide as a substitute is of very poor quality,” Mr Geoffrey Araji, the head teacher Abalokweri Primary in Apac District, says

Mr Jasper Patrick Ojok, the head of Apac Technical School in Apac Municipality, says they suspended the implementation of all development projects and put all the money on feeding students.

“We have a supplier who is giving us food, but at a very high cost. So, to pay the supplier effectively, we cannot now do any other development projects,” he says.

Ms Hilda Namutosi, the head teacher of MM College Wairaka Jinja, says they are lucky that the school has cassava and banana plantations, which still provide enough food to feed the students.

At the border district of Busia, Mr Nathan Wabwire, the director of Busia Trust School, says: “We use 300 kilogrammes of maize flour to prepare meals for our students daily, which is worth Shs900,000. That is a lot of money spent per day on only maize flour,” Mr Wabwire says.

Hajj Ishakka Mbalirwa, the head teacher of Madinah Islamic SS, Nsangi Wakiso District, says they are planning to revise their menu and reduce the days they serve rice to the students.

“Rice has become more expensive compared to maize flour. So we will reduce the days we cook rice to save some money and buy more tonnes of maize flour,” he says. However, he says if the situation worsens, they will be forced to close the term a week before August 12, the official closing date.

But Ms Stella Matembe, a parent with three pupils in one of the boarding schools in Wakiso, says some schools usually give such excuses to close the term earlier than the official date, which she says is unfair.

At Crown High School, Kamwenge District, Mr Aloysius Katureebe, says they resolved with the parents that students should bring maize and beans every term as part of school fees.

“At the beginning of the term, each student brings 50 kilogrammes of maize and 16 kilogrammes of beans and they add Shs150,000 to complete fees, the advantage of this is that we don’t buy maize flour, we mill the maize,” he says.

In Arua City, the head teacher of St. Joseph’s College Ombaci, Mr Charles Ondoga, says they have cut down on capital expenditure and prioritised meals.

“We cannot introduce food rationing because that would be catastrophic. We had to cut capital expenditure and we know that it will affect us in future because school fees were already set in the first term,” Mr Ondoga says.

Students in some schools in West Nile rioted during the first term due to poor quality of food and this time. The administrators are making sure they do not run out of food to avert strikes.

In Koboko District, a kilogramme of maize flour costs Shs2,500 from Shs1,500 and a 100kg bag of maize flour is at Shs200,000 up from Shs100,000 two months ago,  cassava costs 2,000 per kilogramme up from Shs1,000 while a 100kg bag is at Shs200,000.

Mr Zubair Ndata, the deputy head teacher of Kochi Secondary School in Koboko, says they have agreed with parents that each learner brings 5 kilogrammes of maize grain to supplement what the school has in stock.

 “We have 846 learners of which 800 are in the boarding section. Feeding them has become difficult and we have asked parents to make some contribution towards the feeding of their children,” he says.

At Francis Ayume Memorial Secondary School, the head teacher, Mr Isaiah Muki, says due to food shortage, they will be forced to end this term before the official closing date and remain with only candidate classes.

The head teacher of Ngora High School, Eliphas Opolot, says due to shortage of maize grain in Teso Sub-region, their supplier currently gets maize flour from Kampala which is extremely expensive given the current high fuel prices.

“The supply price of maize flour was at Shs2,700 but it has since increased to Shs4,000. Our visitation day is on Saturday, and we expect our parents to clear the fees balance so that we are able to purchase items that we need,” Mr Opolot says. 

Mr Julius Opaso, the head teacher for Teso College Aloet, says they have halted other projects to stay afloat.

According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics, between April last year and April 2022, there was a major increase in the cost of a range of commodities.

Cement prices, for example, increased by 28 percent, cooking oil (57 percent), and diesel (37 percent). Maize flour prices increased by 25 percent, matooke (24 percent), and laundry soap (82 percent). This was partly blamed on poor harvest in the previous season yet there is a growing market of Ugandan agricultural products in neigbouring countries such as Kenya.

In western region

In the western district of Bushenyi, Mr Leni Jasper, the head teacher of Pearl Junior Academy, says they are currently feeding learners on matooke, which is cheaper compared to maize flour. “We currently buy matooke that can last for a week because currently, a kilogramme of maize flour, which feeds eight children is sold at Shs3,800 while a bunch of Matooke that feeds 30 children costs Shs10,000,” he says  Currently, a kilogramme of maize flour in Rukungiri Central market ranges between Shs3,500 and Shs4,000. Mr Arthur  Tibamanya, the head teacher of Ruyonza School in Bushenyi, says they stocked enough maize flour at the beginning of the term in anticipation of higher prices.

Compiled by Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Alex Ashaba,Bill Oketch, Abubaker Kirunda, Tausi Nakato,Denis Edema , Ismail Bategeka, David Awori Felix Warom, Clement Aluma, Rashul Adidi and Ronald Acema, Ronald Kabanza, Sheillar Mutetsi, Milton Bandiho , Felix Ainebyoona, Robert Muhereza, Obedi Kankiriho , Emmanuel Arineitwe Philip Wafula  & Santo Ojok