Posted by: rumnet | March 2, 2010

Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP)

Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP)

Wobbles on in three Northern Regions

 

by Alhassan Imoru

(Published in the February 2010 edition of The ADVOCATE)

Did you know that there was feeding of school children in the country so many years ago, before what has come to be known as the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP)?

If you did not know, then the answer is yes. This is because school children in the then Northern Territories were provided with free meals in boarding schools. That was in the 1940s. However, the mode of feeding the children in those days was described as “chaotic”.

According to Mr. Adam Kaleem, a retired agriculturist and politician, the menu was usually porridge (Koko) served without sugar for breakfast, maize meal (Tuo Zafi) with dry okro soup without meat for either lunch or supper. Rice and beans was provided occasionally as a special diet.

In a chat with TheADVOCATE, Mr. Kaleem who was a beneficiary of the feeding of school children, remembers with nostalgia the special days when they were lucky to be served with what he describes as the “ubiquitous” bandicoot. (The bandicoot is a plant-eating, destructive rat).

“On such special days, the bandicoot caught by a trap was displayed by the school children who sang and danced to show appreciation to the Almighty Above for providing them with their rare delicacy,” he said.

Mr. Kaleem, who was a former Deputy Northern Regional Minister in-charge of Agriculture under the PNDC government, calls on all stakeholders to contribute their quota towards the successful implementation of the Ghana School Feeding Programme.

Time to serve food

Incidentally, the pilot GSFP started in the Upper East Region, specifically at the Kpasalgo Primary School in the Bowku West District. Due to its successful implementation, the Programme was later expanded to cover some selected schools in every district in the region.

The GSFP which was initiated on the premise of NEPAD African Comprehensive Agriculture Programme, puts emphasis on the use of locally grown food to feed children from the Kindergarten and Primary Schools in Ghana, for the purpose of reducing short term hunger and malnutrition amongst the pupils, increase school enrolment and retention, reduce illiteracy and ignorance and strengthen community food production systems.

It is believed that the provision of one hot nutritious meal a day will improve the nutritional status among children. Mr. Bukari Moses Mabengba, Northern Regional Minister designate, recently observed at a stakeholders meeting on the Ghana School Feeding Programme that “a country that recognizes the importance and necessity in feeding her future leaders today, is the one that will survive the future with success, pride and dignity”.

Although the impact of the GSFP on enrolment and attendance on the targeted basic schools has been more than anticipated, regrettably, studies have shown that poor basic infrastructure services in the area of health, agriculture and education coupled with overall weaknesses in institutional collaboration between the Programme and its collaborative decentralized Ministries are impeding the implementation of the Programme.

As at July, 2009 about 640,000 pupils were being fed in 1,700 schools throughout the country. It is expected that 1,040,000 pupils would have benefited from the Programme by the end of the first phase this year (2010).

So one may ask: How has the GSFP impacted on the three Northern Regions?

A National Inventory of Ghana School Feeding Programme undertaken by SNV Ghana(Netherlands Development Organization) in 2008, revealed that the two regions with the highest incidence of poverty in Ghana-Upper East and Upper West- have the lowest percentage of schools (both less than 20) covered by the Programme.

In the case of the Northern Region, although it has a much higher percentage of the total number of public primary schools in the country, the region has only 2.6 percent of the schools covered by the Programme. By comparison, Ashanti and Brong Ahafo Regions have the highest percentages (more than 200 each) in terms of the total number of GSFP schools.

The SNV National Inventory was done to have a comprehensive overview of the status quo in the implementation of the GSFP at the school level, aimed at identifying supplementary activities needed to make the Programme fully effective.

According to the inventory, it became clear that the distribution of schools covered by the GSFP across the country was skewed, since “there was hardly any relation between poverty levels and the distribution of schools in the Programme at the regional level.”

It revealed that though Brong Ahafo Region has only 5-4 percent of its households having difficulty with food needs compared to 40.3 percent and 23.3 percent of the households in the Upper East and Upper West Regions, the region seems to have more schools enrolled on the GSFP than the two poor Upper Regions.

The Programme has positively led to an increase in initial enrolment of most schools. Overall, enrolment in the primary schools had increased by 12.8 percent and the enrolment in Kindergartens by 23.1 percent. “This is especially so in the Northern and Upper West Regions where enrolment has seen a relatively high increase,” according to the inventory.

While several schools saw an increase in enrolment over 100 percent, one school in the Northern Region registered an increase in primary enrolment of more than 300 percent. When the total increase in enrolment per region is taken into account, the Northern Region stands out again, with the highest increase in total primary enrolment of 29.8 percent.

Unfortunately, the increase in enrolment has not led to corresponding increase in either the number of teachers nor classrooms or both. This jeopardises the quality of education. As a result, there are many schools in which children have to share textbooks and desks.

Untrained Teachers

The inventory sought to find out whether the teachers in the schools covered by the GSFP had been trained to provide quality teaching. In the Northern Region, 61.5 percent of the teachers were untrained at the start of the School Feeding Programme. But at the time of the inventory in March 2008, the number marginally rose to 63.0 percent.

An important indicator of the quality of education is the Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) which has been set by the Ghana Education Service (GES) at 35 pupils per teacher. But the GSFP schools in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions at the time of the inventory were 45,57 and 45 respectively.

On school infrastructure, the inventory revealed that there were schools with classrooms that were in a deplorable state or had no classrooms at all. In the Upper East Region, for example, there were three schools that had more than 100 children per classroom. The norm of the GES for the number of pupils per classroom is 46. The Northern and Upper East Regions were found to have many schools that had a Pupil-Classroom Ratio (PCR) that was more than 25 percent above the GES norm.

As the GSFP expands there is much to be done. Extra support is required to improve the processes of delivery to the various levels of implementation of the Programme. The greatest challenge that faces schools’ ability to provide daily meals for their pupils is delays by the GSFP Secretariat in the release of payment for their contracted services.

Caterers who were interviewed stated that the problem of delays and uncertainty surrounding the release of funds sometimes affected the quantity of food they served to pupils. Some cooks complained that they were not paid for over six months and the reason given was that inadequate funds was coming from the GSFP to the districts to pay them. As a result, some cooks were compensated with monies taken from funds meant to purchase food items. This left in sufficient funds for the procurement of foodstuffs for the children.

The irregular release of funds not only causes problems for the daily provision of food, but also for the quantity and quality of food provided. In the Northern Region, it was found that some schools had food served for only some days, while others had not served food at all. In the Upper West Region school children had not been fed for over 70 days. That is more than half of the school days.

The very survival of the GSFP depends on the provision of adequate and timely funds for the preparation of daily meals for pupils which is a crucial component of the Programme.

Best Practices

Certain best practices are worth emulating. A school in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo district had two teams of cooks. The teams would cook every other week, so that they would have time to farm during the week they did not have to cook. With the delay in payment for the cooks, this practice could give cooks some income from another source.

Also in the Yendi district, two Caterers had been contracted to go to the GSFP schools weekly. In the schools, cooking was done by cooks from the community. During the visit, the Caterers would bring some perishable items with them (like meat) and they would train the local cooks on how to prepare the food. In this way, the cooks received weekly training.

Donor Support

Donor Countries have been very supportive of the Programme. In 2000, the Dutch Government provided the Government of Ghana 22 million Euros to support, among others, the Ghana School Feeding Programme.

The Dutch Ambassador to Ghana stated at the time that by supporting the School Feeding Programme his government was “killing three birds with one stone,” namely, improving primary school attendance and results; contributing to the health status of children; and boosting local food production.

For its 2006-2010 food aid programme, the World Food Programme (WFP) Country Office promised to procure $ 10 million worth of food commodities locally for pupils at the basic educational level in the three Northern Regions.

The move was not only to lead to increased enrolment at the basic level, but also stimulate local food production, increase the income of farmers and ensure the development of local food markets in the area of agro-processing.

There is no gainsaying that the GSFP has a huge potential to reduce hunger and malnutrition amongst school children, but only if the Programme is effectively implemented.

To achieve these objectives, however, a lot of improvements in the areas of infrastructure (such as dining halls and storerooms), sanitation and regular supply of food and safe water should be made available in the shortest possible time.

Also, relations between the school, cooks, purchasers of foodstuffs and local farmers should be enhanced to ensure regular supply of fresh agricultural products to enable cooks to prepare meals according to stipulated menu.

Lastly, the GSFP should utilize and strengthen existing decentralization structures in the country in its implementation moving away from what currently appears to be centralized decision-making system.

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