In this report, Omon-Julius Onabu writes that Delta State is set to kick off of its school feeding programme
A two-day expanded stakeholders meeting on homegrown school feeding programme recently held in Asaba, the Delta State capital, aimed chiefly at fine-tuning the process and working instruments for the implementation of the Delta State version of the national Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP). The scheme, which is a Social Investment Programme (SIP) initiative of the Federal Government, is intended to encompass all the federating units of the country for desired nation-wide effect, regarding its social and educational objectives. The Asaba conference attracted stakeholders and participants from relevant local and national bodies including public and private concerns.
The meeting, which had the presence of delegates from the office of the Vice-President led by Mr. Dotun Adebayo, the Operations Manager of national Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, was flagged off by the Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, represented by the state Commissioner for Economic Planning, Dr. Kingsley Emu. From the relevant state ministries, departments and agencies to the faith-based institutions and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), participation was both extensive and intensive as it was indeed comprehensive and robust.
Understanding the national HGSFP
In his remarks at the expanded meeting of the stakeholders at the Unity Hall, Government House Asaba, the Delta State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Mr. Chiedu Ebie, highlighted the importance of the meeting to the commencement of the school feeding scheme in the state. While presenting the guidepost for the discourse, Ebie noted that the Okowa administration was passionate about the programme as it was in tandem with its educational, human capital development and social security policies and programmes. “The programme is currently designed with a two-year implementation plan; and, the Delta State Government has shown commitment through its concerted efforts and outlined activities toward the actualisation of this laudable initiative, and this is why this meeting has been considered as apt and timely,” he stated.
The stakeholders workshop in Asaba threw up several issues that were keenly deliberated upon by the participants and resolutions propositions taken as considered appropriate. The state’s rather peculiar geographical and environmental features make it a land with numerous waterside or coastal communities, which constitute serious challenges regarding mobilisation, movement or communication and monitoring.
Also of great importance is the need to involve the local communities through establishment of contact units at the wards and local governments, the participants agreed, stressing that such active involvement would go a long way in easing the crucial process of “Monitoring and Evaluation” of the scheme since most public schools are in rural communities.
Similarly, the need to dig out competent and God-fearing caterers to undertake the actual feeding of the school children was stressed. All possible bottlenecks to sourcing of quality agricultural products and groceries for the school feeding scheme were identified as well as the registration of good caterers.
Certain financial challenges, and especially the adequacy or not of the N70 per pupil provision, generated heated discussion; but in the end it was agreed that the scheme could navigate around the challenge even if it means seeking funds to augment the provision. Financial stability was identified as one of the things that is invaluable in the effort to ensure sustainability of the programme.
The federal government had made certain clarifications in June this year, through the office of the Vice-President, regarding the financial responsibility of state governments in the implementation of the school feeding programme. The clarification apparently followed doubts in some quarters especially regarding the role of the respective states towards the funding of the programme. The federal government said that state governments were not mandated to make any financial commitment to the HGSFP as about N93.1 billion allocation has been made in the 2016 budget for the programme. This was to allay fears that the generally funds-strapped states would cough out 40 per cent in counterpart funding for the programme.
However, it would appear the funding gaps being envisaged in the smooth takeoff and sustenance of the school feeding programme might not be altogether plugged or eliminated by the assurances by the federal government. For instance, the population of the segment of school children slated to benefit from the HGSFP far outstrips the slot allotted to Delta State by the federal government.
The state Basic and Secondary Education Commissioner, Ebie, hinted that the increased number of pupils especially at the primary level, owing to prevailing economic challenges, has partly led to the state overshooting its allocation by the federal government under the national Home-Grown School Feeding Programme by as high 97,916 pupils. The slot allotted by the federal government to Delta State for the programme is 149,000 pupils only. Thus, the state government must seek alternative or other sources of funding for the 246,916.
In a bid to stem the indefinite or indiscriminate enrollment of pupils into public schools in Delta State all through the academic year, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education recently announced deadline for enrollment into public schools during any given session. The commissioner, Ebie, said that the decision was prompted by the planning challenges it created in the ministry. Ebie said the date for enrollment into public schools has been pegged within two weeks into November during the first term, though consideration could be made in the second term for special cases like transfer.
The coordinating bodies
The state ministries of Basic and Secondary Education, Agriculture and Health as well as Health and Delta State Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises Development Agency (DMSMA), are all playing major roles in efforts to efficiently coordinate the own Home-Grown School Feeding Programme in the state. Through the cooperation and active involvement of the ministries and agencies, three models had been fashioned out at the plenary session of the workshop and duly presented for general deliberation and streamlining at general session.
The Executive Secretary of DMSMA, Mrs. Shimite Bello, complemented the efforts of Basic and Secondary Education Commissioner in moderating the sessions. And, if the enthusiasm by the stakeholders and participants at the Asaba workshop on the HGSFP is anything to go by, the programme might very well offer certain benefits beyond the aforementioned basic objectives of the HGSFP by the state’s Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education. For example, the scheme holds potential of uniting the states and the federal government in a manner that would significantly enhance the country’s education sector especially at the basic school level. It could also go a long way in helping the relevant national, state or regional agencies to draw necessary line between partisanship based on political affiliation and issues bordering on national growth and development.
In the opinion of Dr. Omawumi Urhobo, President of the Warri-based Morgan Smart Development Foundation, stressed “the need to carry everybody along irrespective of political affiliation.” Her well-applauded position was that “this is not to talk about whether one is PDP or APC; because this programme is about our children and the future of our state and nation.” Other speakers included the Ndokwa East chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop (Dr.) Ogbuotoboh L. Uchechukwu and his Ughelli North counterpart, Bishop Diamond Emuobok.
Bright chances of success
While it is gratifying that several states like Delta are enthusiastic about forging a synergy with the federal government through the office of the Vice President, it is equally relieving that the states and the country can learn from the experience of one or two countries which have been implementing Home-Grown School Feeding Programme.
Indeed, the functional approach to Home-Grown School Feeding Programme was initiated or developed by an agency of the United Nations Organisation (UNO), the World Food Progeamme (WFP), through collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and other international organisations and agencies. Thus, Nigeria can benefit with hindsight from countries like Brazil, Ghana, Thailand and India. Thus, the HGSFP in Delta State and Nigeria at large could quickly shake off the greenhorn effect to deliver a relatively successful scheme in the interest of both the children, small local farmers and the local economies of the respective states.