The Federal Government’s disclosure that over 9.3 million school children from 56,506 primary schools across the country are currently benefiting from its Home Grown School Feeding programme is commendable. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who stated this during the launching of the programme at St. Michael’s Primary School, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, explained that 190,000 farmers were supplying food items. He stressed that 767 cows and 7.3 million eggs were consumed weekly in the programme. Osinbajo pointed out that the project remained one of the four cardinal objectives of the empowerment and social investment policy of the Federal Government.
We recall that the Home Grown School Feeding programme was launched in 2016 with a target to feed about 24 million schoolchildren across the country. The project is apparently the biggest social investment initiative in Africa. So far, there is hope that the target is likely to be achieved now that over 24 states are participating in the project. Edo and Ekiti states are the latest entrants into the programme. It is our hope that government will work assiduously with all the stakeholders to ensure that all states and qualified schoolchildren are accommodated in the programme.
The school feeding initiative is designed to increase school enrolment, strengthen local agricultural economies by providing markets for farmers, and create employment opportunities with jobs in catering, processing and farming.
There is no doubt about the relevance of the programme at this time of our national development. In a country where there are over 13 million out-of-school children, the school feeding project is needed to keep some Nigerian children in school.
Since the inception of the programme, it has increased school enrolment, especially in the rural areas. The initiative is likely to be responsible for the marginal drop in the out-of-schoolchildren figure in the country. In states where the project is being implemented, the schoolchildren are fed one meal a day. When pupils are guaranteed one good meal a day, it has the capacity to improve their wellbeing.
It is worth noting that school attendance has improved significantly in the participating states. Some beneficiaries of the programme have also lauded it. It is good that the project is designed to be home grown. The foods are locally sourced and the food vendors are taken from the local communities where the benefitting schools are located. This ensures the sustainability of the project. Many farmers have gone into poultry and food crops production in order to benefit from the project. Interestingly, there are opportunities for expansion as the programme evolves.
In view of its enormous benefits to the pupils and the host communities, we call on the Federal Government to ensure that all states of the federation are brought into the laudable initiative as soon as possible. The overall benefits of the programme to the children involved are unquantifiable. To cover all the states in the country, the Federal Government must increase the budgetary allocation to the project while participating states are enjoined to promptly pay their counterpart funding.
We say this because the budgetary provision for the initiative is far from being adequate. In 2017, for example, only N48 billion was reportedly spent on the project. Paucity of funds might have slowed the rate of its national coverage. Even in some of the states where it is in operation, not all the local governments are covered. We believe that ensuring a national coverage for the school feeding project is the best way to achieve its lofty objectives. Therefore, let the Federal and State governments and other stakeholders work together to include all states in the programme.