Undernourishment and stunting remain high

. . . as Japan renews commitment to food and nutrition assistance in Lesotho

LINEO MABEKEBEKE

MASERU – Education and training minister ’Mamookho Phiri has said undernourishment and stunting in the country are at a worrying 43 percent among children aged two to three years, a majority of whom are found in pre-schools. As a result, she said the ministry recognises school feeding as a necessity and not an expenditure. She said there is evidence to suggest that improved nutrition leads to improved cognitive capacity for children.

Phiri said other benefits of school feeding include improved school attendance and access. The minister said this at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the government of Japan signing ceremony this week for a new contribution of JPY 250 million (approximately US$2 million or over M30 million), to strengthen food assistance support to 60 000 pre-primary school children through the national school feeding programme.

A signing ceremony was held to mark the contribution, which will be used to buy canned fish and fortified maize meal, further diversifying the nutritious meals offered in Early Childhood Care Development Centres (ECD) across the country. “We are aware that many children attend school because that is where they can access a decent meal. Again, hunger and malnutrition have debilitating effects on the physical and mental health of children and negatively affects their behavioral and emotional development,” Phiri continued.

As a result, she noted, children are at the core of the school feeding policy and, as such, it augurs well for the rights of the child, which require governments to create environments where children can grow and reach their full potential. At the same event, Aurore Rusiga, WFP Representative to Lesotho and Country Director said the support from Japan comes at a critical time, given that more people are food insecure and in need of help. She said the assistance to pre-school learners, most of whom are orphaned or otherwise vulnerable and with high rates of malnutrition, will boost their food and nutrition security needs.

The contribution from the government of Japan will bridge the funding gap for the school feeding programme and ensure the undisrupted provision of meals, especially lunches. These will complement a daily breakfast already provided. In his remarks the Japanese Ambassador to Lesotho, Norio Maruyama, said the aid is aimed at improving food security and support the economic and social development of the country. He said his country would like to continue to contribute towards improving the livelihoods of vulnerable people in Lesotho.

All of the assistance to Lesotho, he continued, is related to Japan’s engagement done through the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). TICAD is an open multilateral conference framework, which is proud of its seven rounds of summit meetings since 1993. While Covid-19 restrictions have been eased, Lesotho’s economy has not fully recovered from the pandemic and is now suffering the impact of the conflict in Ukraine, notably higher food and fertiliser prices.

More than 520 000 Basotho are food insecure, 320 000 of whom are in rural areas. That vulnerable segment of the population is likely to increase due to job losses, limited livelihood opportunities, lower remittances, reduced earnings from livestock and livestock product sales and higher food and non-food prices. Households categorised as poor and very poor are expected to experience more pronounced food consumption challenges, especially during the upcoming “lean” season October 2022 to March 2023.

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