Amidst shutdown, Nigeria to continue school feeding programme

Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's president

The Nigerian government has said it would be developing strategies towards proceeding with the National Home-Grown School Feeding programme despite the closure of schools to curtail the spread of Coronavirus pandemic.

President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed this in a national broadcast Sunday evening detailing government’s efforts since Nigeria recorded its index Coronavirus case on 27th February, 2020.

He said that he had directed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, which spearheads the programme to work with other stakeholders towards defining the modalities for its sustainability during the period.

In his words, “although schools are closed, I have instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with State Governments in developing a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding program during this period without compromising our social distancing policies.
The Minister will be contacting the affected States and agree on detailed next steps.”

The president also called on all Nigerians to take personal responsibility to support vulnerable persons within their communities with whatever they may need.

Among other things, Buhari ordered the restriction of movement in Lagos State, Ogun State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) save for essential services.

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Most state governments across the country had since followed suit, thus leading to the initial suspension of the national school feeding programme nationwide for the first week of the shutdown.

Nigeria’s school feeding programme

Nigeria’s Home-Grown School Feeding programme is one of the components of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) of the federal government under Mr Buhari. reports that it is currently active in 33 states across the country and the FCT in varying degrees.

The programme targets providing daily nutritional meals to vulnerable young children in public primary schools within the focal states.

The humanitarian affairs ministry puts the number of beneficiaries of the programme at over 9.9 million children as at January 2020.

These pupils in 54,942 schools across the country and are served by 107,862 suppliers and cooks.

Various reports have shown that the programme had improved attendance in the schools and improved hygiene among the pupils.

Feeding during a pandemic

On 11th March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Coronavirus a pandemic.

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This new strain of the virus also called COVID-19 started in Wuhan, eastern China last December and has now affected over 700,000 persons in over 150 countries globally.

This development has led to the implementation of precautionary measures in social distancing including the closure of schools, shutdown of offices and social life in various countries across the world.

School closures meant that countries implementing a school feeding programme have had to put such on hold.

The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that Three hundred million primary school children who depend on school meals are missing out due to closures triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Also, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), had warned that the suspension of school feeding programmes will pose a challenge to the food security and nutritional status of many children, especially those from the most vulnerable groups.

FAO called on governments to implement measures to support children whose families have greater difficulties in accessing food, and to provide the nutritional contributions that are usually guaranteed by school feeding programmes.

Countries like the United Kingdom and the United States had earlier come up with initiatives to continue to feed children and vulnerable persons in these times of crisis.

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Last Tuesday, the Department of Education in the UK announced plans to release guidelines for schools to operate the feeding programme despite the ongoing restrictions.

Officials there believe that it will help ensure “nutritious food gets to many thousands of young people who need it the most”.

As a result of the pandemic, American legislators introduced the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It includes a provision for expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (SNAP) that provides money for low-income families to purchase healthy food.

The provision proposed legislation to provide additional emergency funds for “households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals if not for their schools being closed due to the COVID-19 emergency.”

“In order to be eligible, the child’s school must be closed for no less than five consecutive days,” according to the eight-page summary of bill released by House Democrats last Wednesday.

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