The National Homegrown School Feeding Programme resumed penultimate Wednesday, after 19 months of suspension. Why was it suspended in the first place?
The National Homegrown School Feeding Programme was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic which led to school closures. During the period of closure, some restructuring also took place in the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development where the programme is domiciled. In July 2021, payments were made to the cooks but feeding could not commence because of the security operations which required schools to be closed in Kaduna state. Thankfully, the state government has directed for schools to be reopened and now the programme has commenced in earnest.
During the flag off of the resumed feeding programme, you mentioned that 730,000 pupils from primary 1 to 3 will be fed. Are pupils from primary 4 upward excluded from the programme?
We currently have 735,280 pupils in primary 1 to 3 benefitting from the programme. The programme is designed to cater to this group for now. Research has proven the importance of nutrition in the early years of life when there is rapid brain development. Children who get the right nutrition early are likely to live healthier lives and perform better academically. You may be aware that in 2016, Kaduna State Government commenced feeding of all pupils in primary schools in the state. However, in 2017, the federal government took over and now bears the financial responsibility for this program. For the federal government, the numbers are way more than Kaduna state’s alone as almost all states of the federation are participating in the programme and the target for now is Primary 1 to 3 only.
What measures has Kaduna State Government put in place to monitor the quality of the meals and the entire feeding programme in general?
There are several measures which have been put in place to monitor the school feeding programme in general. One of such measures is using statutory organizations like the Schools Based Management Committees (SBMCs). The SBMCs are established by law and work closely with the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) to monitor and oversee activities within schools. Additionally, we have constituted an association of self-motivated mothers of pupils in the schools to monitor the school feeding programme. The name of the group is called Kaduna Mothers for Accountability (KM4A). These mothers have been trained on how to monitor and deal with infractions found in the delivery of school meals. Channels of communication have also been established for direct contact with the central school feeding office in the state, where issues cannot be resolved locally. It is our hope that the KM4A groups would be able to tackle most issues directly without the need to escalate them further. The feedback from KM4A so far is promising. In addition to the above, we also now have our Social Investment Office call centre which is fully operational and those with observations and complaints can contact us on 09159800055, 09159800066, 07061722238, 08061744469
You said that the programme will cover 3,400 schools across the 23 local governments in the state. Does this number include schools in villages and hard-to-reach areas?
The programme covers 3,486 schools across all 23 LGAs. This number is made up of schools in the various nooks and crannies of the state. You can be sure that in every corner of the state, the programme is active, and therefore the design of the programme is such that the necessary activities are decentralized to the school level. All cooks are required to live very close to the schools where they cook, so that distance is no barrier to the provision of their services. They are also supposed to purchase food from the local farmers in their communities. To aid in the achievement of these goals, cooks’ payments are made directly to their accounts to allow them to make purchases within their communities.
Is there a mechanism to forestall incidences where the cooks may be shortchanged in the payment of their allowances?
It is a rarity to see cases of cooks being shortchanged in their payments. For many of the cases received, upon investigation, we realized that they were being shortchanged by relatives who they entrusted with their ATM cards. Otherwise, the payment system is straightforward. Each cook is paid N70 per meal, per child and each cook is assigned a few children to feed. So, for instance, if I am a cook feeding 100 children, it means that I would receive N7,000 for each day of feeding. The payment schedule is digitized so the likelihood of errors is minimal. In the event where there are germane instances of an error from the Finance Department, our staff are on hand to rectify such issues which can be lodged by the cooks through the Desk Officers, Education Secretaries or directly with the Social Investment Office.