In a developing country such as South Africa, where poverty is not only rife, but also among the highest in the world, people inevitably go hungry. According to the World Bank, from a list of 149 countries, South Africa has the highest inequality in the world, with a score of 63 out of 100 (0 equals total equality) and more than half, or 30 million people, live below the national poverty line of R992 per month. This is not even enough to support oneself, let alone a family, especially one with growing children.
Because most of these families living in poverty cannot afford to provide their children with a proper education, with the hopes of saving them from the poverty cycle and to have a better life, some no-fee schools cater for poverty-stricken families. Since many of these poor families spend their meagre income on travel, rent, utilities, clothes, etc., some of them cannot afford enough food for the family. Therefore, many children go to school on an empty stomach and often return to a house with limited or no food to eat.
This is why the democratic government of South Africa initiated school feeding schemes in 1994 in order to feed the future of the country. The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), previously known as the Primary School Nutrition Programme (PSNP), is one of the projects of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and was run by the Department of Health until 2003, whereafter it was administered by the Department of Education. Today, the NSNP feeds more than 9 million learners in more than 20 000 schools across the country. According to the Department of Basic Education, the NSNP supplies children with protein (soya, fish, eggs, milk, sour milk, beans and lentils), fresh fruit and vegetables, and carbohydrate/starch on a daily basis. These foods contain the nutrients essential to healthy, growing children.
A child who is hungry won’t be able to concentrate in school, and will therefore suffer academically, and with a poor education, the child won’t have access to the same opportunities that better-fed and better-educated children will have, thus the poverty cycle remains unbroken. According to Irene Labuschagne, who is a dietician at the University of Stellenbosch’s Nutrition Information Centre, “malnutrition in early childhood has serious, long-term consequences because it impedes motor, sensory, cognitive, social and emotional development … Temporary hunger causes inattentiveness and reduced physical and mental activity, and has a negative influence on school performance and learning”.
In addition, up to 47% of children in Southern Africa are stunted due to malnutrition. According to the World Health Organisation, “Stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation. Stunting in early life – particularly in the first 1000 days from conception until the age of two – impaired growth has adverse functional consequences on the child. Some of those consequences include poor cognition and educational performance, low adult wages, lost productivity and, when accompanied by excessive weight gain later in childhood, an increased risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases in adult life.”
Apart from keeping children full and healthy with a nutritious meal every day, the NSNP and other school feeding schemes have other benefits as well. The feeding schemes also alleviate some of the financial pressure that caregivers experience, and instead of spending their entire income on food, they can use it to improve their child’s life in other ways, such as leisure activities or new clothes. Another benefit of the NSNP is job creation, in that unskilled members of the community are employed to cook the food in schools, which, although it doesn’t amount to much, still changes the life of a few.
Nutritional and financial benefits aside, the NSNP also has educational benefits apart from nutritional education, in that it also encourages schools to establish food gardens. These food gardens not only supply the school with fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement the government-provided menu, but also provide an excellent opportunity to teach children about horticulture, botany, biology, geology, chemistry, and many other topics that are sometimes difficult to teach without a hands-on, practical approach. Also, if children learn how to grow their own food, they can start their own vegetable gardens at home and increase household food security, especially considering that many of the poorer children only have one meal a day, which is the one they are provided at school. Also, children who only get that one meal a day will be more motivated to come to school to learn. In its Twenty Year Review, the Presidency stated: “By providing children with meals at school, the National School Nutrition Programme has contributed to regular and punctual attendance by learners and enabled them to attend school without being hungry.”
With many of our future leaders, innovators, and game changers in schools today, it is essential that we keep our youth well fed and healthy; not only physically, but mentally as well. That is why it is essential that the school feeding schemes supply the children not just with food, but with food that contains the nutrients necessary to stimulate their minds and bodies to the best of their potential. This falls perfectly into the mission and vision of Nhlayisa Power Supply, who distributes fortified instant porridge to many rural school feeding schemes, which contains all the nutrients a young mind needs to get ahead in life.
In a Nhlayisa school feeding scheme with 6000 learners eating Power Supply porridge daily, the results have been remarkable – attendance has increased by 30% and academic performance increased by 15% in a mere 6 months. See video.