In-school nutrition programmes gain support from governments around the world

It is just breakfast – some may say. But those of us intimately involved in school nutrition programmes know very well that it is more than just breakfast, says Eugene Absolom, director of the Tiger Brands Foundation.

He says a growing number of developing countries around the world are also beginning to appreciate the value of in-school nutrition programmes.

According to a World Food Programme (WFP) report, at the beginning of 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, school nutrition programmes delivered meals to more children than in any time in human history.

The report states that at least 388 million children (or one in every two) received school meals every day in at least 161 countries from all income levels. Between 2013 and 2020, the number of children receiving school meals grew by 9 percent globally. In low-income countries, growth was more pronounced at a massive 36 percent.

Absolom says this growth also reflects a widespread institutionalisation of these nutrition programmes as part of government policies for national development.

The overwhelming majority of school nutrition programmes (over 90 percent according to WFP) are funded from domestic funds. This further bolsters the argument that governments around the world are realising the far-reaching impact of these programmes.

Consequently, the programmes have become a priority item of their expenditure budgets, rather than mere election slogans.

Absolom says there is increasing evidence that effective school nutrition programmes, like the one administered by the Tiger Brands Foundation, improve both access to schools, health as well as learning outcomes.

“In South Africa, the Tiger Brands Foundation commissioned a study that came to the same conclusion – that long-term benefits of school nutrition programmes are far too great to simply receive lip service,” adds Absolom.

The Tiger Brands Foundation programme is run in tandem with the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), funded by the government. The NSNP currently provides meals to more than nine million learners.

The Foundation’s breakfast programme reaches over 79 000 learners every school day in over 105 schools in all nine provinces, providing much-needed nutrition to learners in the most disadvantaged communities.

It is one of the longest-running and far-reaching privately funded in-school nutrition programmes. Apart from the short-term benefits of ensuring that learners are well-nourished, as well as the programme’s ability to provide employment in communities, it was the long-term benefits that inspired the establishment of the Foundation, adds Absolom.

He says the vision has always been to bring about socio-economic change in the most vulnerable communities in South Africa, which can be achieved through a series of inter-connected programme outputs.

The first step is keeping the learners in school.

The Foundation’s research has indicated that where learners receive breakfast, school attendance was considerably higher and stable. Once the learners are in school and well nourished, they are likely to perform better in their academic programme.

The impact of a good education is a higher likelihood that one’s socio-economic condition will also improve, thereby ending the cycle of poverty.

“This is the Foundation’s big idea and strategic intent,” says Absolom.

Studies conducted on behalf of the Tiger Brands Foundation have demonstrated that every rand invested in its nutrition programme has a social return of just under R11. The high returns show that the Foundation’s model is delivered in a very cost-effective manner that targets the right stakeholders.

Given the unique value proposition of this model, the Foundation has been open to sharing it with other stakeholders who want to get involved in ending food insecurity and engendering long-term socio-economic change.

Absolom says while the WFP study indicates a welcome improvement in the number of learners receiving good nourishment, the demand is simply far too great for governments and the private sector to rest on their laurels.

The WFP report says more than 70 million worldwide of the most vulnerable children are still not receiving good nutrition.

“While the Foundation will continue to celebrate milestones achieved each year in bringing good nutrition to more learners, the work is clearly far from being complete,” concludes Absolom.

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