AUDA-NEPAD: Improving nutritional value of Nigeria`s school feeding programme

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The African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), a fortnight ago, hosted school feeding managers from across the Nigerian federation to a capacity building workshop on the use of the School Meal Planner (SMP) tool; which enables users to create nutritionally-balanced and market costed school meals, using daily nutritional allowances, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO)

An adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical exercise is considered a basic necessity of life – and integral to achieving quality health and well-being. However, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), over 800 million people across the globe are undernourished, with Africa accounting for more than 25% of the figures.

In Africa`s most populous nation, Nigeria, about 2 million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) – the second highest burden of stunted (malnourished) children of any country in the world – with a national prevalence rate of 32% among children under the age of five years, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Poor nutrition leads to reduced immunity, an increased susceptibility to diseases, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity among children under-five. Consequently, malnutrition is regarded as the underlying cause of 45% of all deaths of under-five children around the world. Hence, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) has for long identified the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP) as having an immediate impact on food and nutrition security in Africa, with a potential to contribute to the realization of the African Union`s long-term development master plan: Agenda 2063.

In 2003, NEPAD in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) launched a pilot HGSFP and Health Programme in 12 African countries including Nigeria; designed to link school feeding programmes to agricultural development through the purchase and use of locally produced foods to improve nutrition and quality of school meals on the continent. The HGSFP was later endorsed by the AU Heads of State and Governments as a means of tackling hunger, improving nutrition as well as increasing children’s access, participation and achievement in school for sustainable livelihoods on the continent – as enshrined in the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth And Transformation for Shared Prosperity And Improved Livelihoods..

“In march this year, NEPAD undertook a survey of the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) in 3 Nigerian states namely: Ogun, Oyo, and Osun, in collaboration with the government of Nigeria and the Imperial College London`s Partnership for Child Development (PCD).  The aim of the study was to assess the quality of school meals being served in schools towards the use and implementation of the School Meal Planner (SMP) tool for improved nutritional impact,” says Kefilwe Moalosi, senior nutrition officer cum program manager at AUDA-NEPAD.

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It was on this basis that about 70 nutrition officers and state-level school feeding programme managers gathered in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, for a 3-day capacity building workshop on the theme: “Nigeria Homegrown School Feeding team capacity building workshop for use of the School Meal Planner (SMP).” The training was hosted by AUDA-NEPAD, in collaboration with Nigeria’s National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) and the Partnership for Child Development (PCD), a global consortium of civil society organizations, academic institutions and technical experts, domiciled at Imperial College London.

Participants brainstorming at the workshop:         Photo AUDA-NEPAD

Among others, the objectives of the capacity building workshop was applying basic nutrition and menu planning guidelines to improve the nutritional composition of the NHGSFP and build nutrition officers’ and school feeding programme managers’ capacities for identifying and using relevant handy measures for use by cooks across  Nigeria. This is to ensure school children`s meals always contain the required nutrients and in the right proportions.

“The NHGSFP programme started in 2016 in Nigeria, and now about 33 out of the 36 states in Nigeria have enrolled into the school feeding programme, with over 9 million children benefitting from it. Currently, we are trying to improve on the nutrition quality of the meals, and standardize the meals using the SMP tool for all states in Nigeria. The SMP will enable each state to know the nutrient composition – protein, carbohydrate, or fat – of the meals being served to school children,” said Dotun Adebayo, operations manager at Nigeria’s National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP).

The NHGSFP is currently said to be benefitting about 9.5 million pupils in over 56, 000 primary schools across 33 out of 36 states in Nigeria; it has created employment opportunities for about 105, 670 cooks and over 150, 000 smallholder farmers have been linked to the program to supply locally produced foods.

“The HGSFP seeks to ensure school meals are cost-effective, and produced from locally sourced food items grown by smallholder farmers. Thus, by linking the smallholder farmers to the school feeding programme, we are creating a market for them as well as helping to boost their income and the [local] economy. For instance, in Oyo state, women fish farmers have been linked to the programme to supply fish to the schools. This is making a huge impact in the local fish business and adding value to the industry. Our aim is to scale up the programmme by ensuring that it is replicated in other AU member states,” Moalosi told African Newspage.

While speaking at the workshop, Josephine Kiamba, AUDA`s consultant on food and nutrition security, noted that the African Union had been focused on improving the quality of school meals on the continent. “One way of improving the school meals is by using a tool that facilitates the process of planning nutritious meals because planning a meal menu is often a difficult task and thus requires expertise. But the SMP tool enables the program managers and nutrition officers to easily plan school meals with high nutritional qualities,” said Kiamba.

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“The SMP tool uses the African food composition table of a particular country to plan meals for school children in the country. One key advantage of the tool is that it can be visualized, so you can practically see what is changing in terms of the nutrient content of the food. For example, if you input 50g of yam in the SMP tool, you will see what nutrients and amount of energy are provided by the yam. So, you can also add another class of nutrient to the yam, for example fish, to make it more nutritious and you can visualize the difference in terms of the nutritional value of the food. Thus, the tool is easy to use!” explains Kiamba.

Micronutrient deficiency otherwise known as hidden hunger which occurs as a result of insufficient and non-availability of micronutrient-rich non-staple food is responsible for malnutrition among millions of children and adults in sub-Saharan Africa. The condition is characterized by chronic deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, iron, zinc and iodine, and affects millions of people, especially the rural poor and other vulnerable populations.

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“The prevalence of micronutrient deficiency is high in sub-Saharan Africa. According to reports, vitamin A deficiency alone affects 48% of children under five years while iron deficiency is responsible for many cases of anaemia and affects 63% of children under 5 years,” Moalosi said. “We [AUDA-NEPAD] are working with partners including the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), based in Accra Ghana, to address the issues of micronutrient deficiency. For instance, we have been working together under a project tagged: ‘Building Nutritious Food Basket (BNFB) in Africa’ to promote the use of bio-fortified Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) that contains high-levels of vitamin A for children under-five.”

One of the state program managers of the NHGSFP that attended the AUDA-NEPAD training from Enugu state, in south eastern Nigeria, Ifeanyi Onah, described the SMP tool as essential for the development of standardized quality and nutritious meals for school children.

“Since the inception of the NHGSFP in Nigeria, we had never been exposed to this type of training. I am amazed by how the SMP tool works – it has practical applications. I believe that with our peculiarities in Nigeria, each state can standardize their school meals based on the food types that are available and derivable from their respective states. Thus, for us in Enugu, it is possible to have a standardized measure for each food item using the SMP tool,” Onah told African Newspage.

“The workshop has been quite intensive and the state facilitators have learned the practical application of the SMP tool. Going forward, we are going to monitor the activities of the states and ensure that they produce good school meal plans,” said Adebayo. “The outcome of the NGHSFP has been positive thus far. The programme has created employment opportunities along the agricultural value chain, and school enrolment has also increased by about 25%. Hence, the Nigerian story is one that can be shared!”

Research has shown that majority of African countries are battling with the challenge of child stunting or Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) hence the need for nutritionally-enriching school feeding programmes. Beyond addressing hunger and malnutrition, school feeding comes with a lot of other socio-economic benefits across the areas of education, food security, health, and agriculture. By using locally-produced food, AUDA-NEPAD and the Nigerian government are creating a market for local small holder farmers, boosting the farmer’s livelihoods and advancing the country’s agricultural development.

 

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