MASERU – A number of bottlenecks should be addressed if the local smallholder farmers are to take full advantage of the national school feeding programme. The programme seeks to provide learners with nutritious meals to curb short-term hunger with the intention of increasing their attention span in class, thus improving learning outcomes. It also provides job opportunities to the local communities by offering services to schools and to instill a sense of ownership through participating in school feeding projects.
In 2015, the government assumed full responsibility of financing the national school feeding programme, with the World Food Program (WFP) remaining responsible for managing and monitoring it. The government also approved a new National School Feeding Policy (NSFP), setting into motion a number of changes in the way the school feeding programme is delivered in public primary schools across the country. This included the out-sourcing by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) of the programme to the private sector.
In 2017, the WFP handed over some schools to the Ministry of Education and Training for subsequent engagement of the National Management Agent (NMA) outsourced to implement the school feeding programme on behalf of the ministry. Since then, local smallholder farmers have however, been struggling to take full advantage of the open marketing opportunities that come with the feeding programme.
Under the project, farmers are allowed to produce and supply schools with maize meal, beans, peas, eggs, leafy vegetables as well as cooking oil, salt and sugar. According to statistics from the education ministry, approximately 1 692.7 tons of pulses (beans, peas and lentils) are needed for at least four days a week to feed 313 461 learners per annum. A total of 501.5 tons of leafy vegetables (cabbage, spinach, rape and mustard) is needed once every week to feed 313 461 learners per annum.
Farmers are further allowed to supply 12 538 440 eggs/417 948 trays to feed 313 461 learners per annum as well as supply approximately 6 770, 700kg/67,707.7 tons of maize-meal per annum to feed learners with pap and porridge. But farmers have been struggling to take full advantage of these opportunities. Challenges include poor quality of the produce, low volumes and erratic supply to the market.
High costs of farming inputs also compel farmers to go for low quality inputs with poor returns. Furthermore, farmers also fail to meet market expectations due to lack of physical and financial assets such as land and credit as well as human assets such as skills. “Some farmers end up withdrawing from their contracts due to some of these challenges. This year for instance, we are only working with 304 smallholder farmers in the school feeding programme.
“Some have since withdrawn, leaving a huge gap towards fulfilling the market as required by the programme. Sometimes we are forced to go out and import some of the products from South Africa,” said Pule Leboka from the National Management Agent (NMA). The school feeding programme has been implemented as a steady feature of primary education in Lesotho since 1961. The programme has been implemented through various models and in collaboration with different partners, including the WFP since 1965 and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
In order to maximise potential benefits, the ministry of education believes that the Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) needs to work as a multi-sectoral intervention and needs to be integrated into broader national social protection systems, including coordination mechanisms facilitating each sector in both contributing to and benefiting from the programme. “A lot of impact could be registered if we all work together with other stakeholders to try and stimulate growth,” said Thuto Ntšekhe Mokhehle from the ministry of education during the marketing linkages forum that was organised by the WFP and ministry of agriculture last week.
Going forward, the Lesotho National Farmers Union (LENAFU) recommended that, among others, there is need to create a public-private sector dialogue desk in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security with relevant stakeholders in the food system. This is a dialogue platform for advancement of the sector where challenges, gaps and opportunities will be discussed. Continuous training on food quality and handling should also be emphasised as well as commodity pricing and market intelligence.