Companies should help feed pupils at school

Writer: Peter Nyanzi. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Over the years, civil society organisations have played a key role by supporting school feeding programs especially in vulnerable communities such as Karamoja.

Following the introduction of UPE in 1997, gross enrolment in primary schools shot up from 2.5 million in 1996 to more than 8.6 million in 2023, according to the Ministry of Education. 

About 70 percent of primary school children (six million) are in UPE schools and sadly, the majority of them (70 percent) do not get anything to eat while at school.

While the government agrees that child hunger indeed leads to poor concentration, absenteeism, bad behaviour, poor health and eventually dropping out of school, it insists that parent-led feeding is the most suitable option, given the financial strain on the public coffers.

The parent-led feeding modalities include termly cash contributions, food contribution in kind, and home-packed meals. However, this model is not working either, for obvious reasons.

How can parents who are struggling to buy scholastic requirements and food at home be expected to feed their children at school? Over the years, civil society organisations have played a key role by supporting school feeding programmes, especially in vulnerable communities such as Karamoja. However, they can only do so much.

I want to suggest that the private sector can also give a helping hand. Fortunately, we don’t have to dig into imports because we already have enough food internally.

Let me illustrate. In his State-of-the-Nation-Address on June 6, President Museveni indicated that the country’s total milk production now stands at 5.3 billion litres per year, yet Ugandans consume just 800 million litres, leaving a surplus of 4.5 billion.

Additionally, he said Uganda’s sugar production is now 600,000 metric tonnes yet the internal market consumes only 380,000 metric tonnes, leaving a surplus of more than 220,000 metric tonnes.

Now, if one kilo of sugar is enough to feed 25 children on just one cup of porridge per day, it implies that the six million UPE children would consume some 24 metric tonnes of sugar per day.

Let’s suppose that one litre of milk in porridge can feed 50 children. It implies that our six million children would consume 120,000 litres of milk per day. That would present massive opportunities for everyone.

Given the numerous benefits that would accrue to the children, households, and indeed the entire economy, I have a feeling that the leading corporate organisations should chip in to support school feeding, possibly under a special private-public partnership arrangement.

A recent study in South Africa showed that school feeding programmes do have a significant impact - improving illness, school attendance, and academic achievement on the children, with the spillover effect of households spending less on health services.

For working parents, feeding at school does alleviate the financial strain and time constraints as they don’t have to juggle work and childcare responsibilities at home or hire helpers at home.

Also, procuring food for school feeding from farmers in the community would provide an incredible opportunity to improve household incomes, which also comes with many benefits in the fight against poverty. 

For the children, having meals in a school environment promotes socialisation and can foster a sense of community among children from diverse backgrounds. Shared meal times provide opportunities for social interaction, bonding, and the development of social skills.

Clearly, school feeding is multi-sectoral, connecting education, agriculture, health, nutrition, social protection, and community development, among others.  

That should be enough to attract private sector involvement, which is critical as it can facilitate partnerships and collaboration with other stakeholders, including farmers, off-takers, bulk suppliers, NGOs, and government ministries, departments and agencies. 

Peter Nyanzi is a journalist