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Save school feeding scheme



THE School Feeding Programme, a noble initiative to provide decent meals to vulnerable children in Lesotho’s primary schools, is on the verge of collapse after the government failed to pay suppliers.

The collapse of the scheme could roll back the massive gains that have been achieved in the education sector over the past two decades.

After its introduction in 2006, the school feeding scheme was hailed as a policy masterstroke. It was feted as one of the best programmes to keep vulnerable children in primary schools while fighting hunger.

Over the last two decades, the feeding programme has therefore become an integral part of the school system in Lesotho. It must therefore not be allowed to collapse.

Reports by aid agencies indicated that most of Lesotho’s children suffered from stunted growth. They were malnourished. Some of the students who are in primary school are coming from child-headed families. Some are orphans.

The school meals were probably their only source of a decent meal in a day. The scheme gave the children, some of whom walked long distances to school, an incentive to attend classes consistently. The food scheme kept these students within the education system.

It also reduced the financial burden on parents who were already struggling to feed their families. Most importantly it also gave the school children an incentive to grow their own food.
And thanks to this excellent initiative, Lesotho saw fewer students dropping out of primary school.

But all this is now under threat of reversal after the government failed to keep the programme running. Delays in paying suppliers have meant they are no longer able to keep providing meals to the children.

This is a disaster in the making. Most of these suppliers are operating on a shoe-string and do not have huge financial resources to keep supplying food in schools when the government has not paid them.

They also do not have the capacity to seek urgent loans from banks to keep their operations going. They cannot even take that risk as long as there is no indication from the government as to when it would pay them.

All this has created a massive conundrum for business people running the school feeding programme who might otherwise have been keen to keep the programme running.

A solution must therefore be found soon or else we run the risk of jeopardising the future of a beautiful project and the future of hundreds of thousands of Basotho children.

If these children pull out of school, the government would have been complicit in perpetuating the cycle of poverty in Lesotho.

To break that cycle it is absolutely imperative that the government does all it can to keep these students in school so that they, like many other children elsewhere, are given a real shot at some of the best opportunities in their lives.

We also note that the funds allocated to the programme by the Ministry of Finance have been dwindling for years. That is because the government itself has struggled to raise more funds through taxes and the Southern Africa Custom Union (SACU) remittances.

For instance, in 2010 M220 million was allocated to the school feeding programme. That amount was cut to M160 million last year. With this reality, it is clear that the government will now need to mobilize resources elsewhere.

Perhaps we must now turn to our international partners such as the World Food Programme, which is already doing a lot to feed our own people, for urgent assistance.

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