The Imperative of School Feeding Programs

The International Community of
Banyakigezi (ICOB) held its 6th Convention in New York from July 31
to August 4, 2008. It was attended by Members of Parliament, representatives from
the media and research institutions, Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organizations
and other stakeholders. The purpose of the Convention was to discuss the
enormous economic, social, cultural and environmental challenges the people of
Kigezi are grappling with and to recommend a way forward. In view of the
rampaging food crisis and the associated skyrocketing food prices, the keynote address
was appropriately about the paradox of hunger and abundance in Uganda.


The formal presentations and
informal discussions demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that the
education system in Kigezi was in deep trouble: School drop out and absenteeism
had increased to staggering levels and student performance had plummeted. While
there were many reasons for these sad developments in a region that was once famous
for academic excellence, hunger was stressed as the single most important
factor. Massive sales and losses had reduced availability in an area that has
abundant food and raised prices beyond the means of many households and
contributed to hunger. Studies have demonstrated that 50 percent of children in
Kigezi are stunted as compared with 40 percent nationally. It was also
confirmed that serious cases of child stunting were highest in Acholi,
Karamoja, Kabale and Kisoro. With this level of under-nutrition, children
cannot perform well in any activity including in class rooms. It is no wonder
that academic performance has plummeted. However, in schools where lunches are
being served, the levels of attendance and performance had improved, raising hope
that not all was lost.

While the participants acknowledged
that school attendance and performance had been adversely affected by teacher
quality, shortage of classroom space and instructional materials, distance
between schools and homes, weak inspection arrangements as well as an absence
of accommodation for teachers on school premises or near the schools, there was
a general consensus that the immediate remedy should be the provision of school

There is overwhelming evidence from
Uganda and other countries that poverty and poor nutrition impact negatively on
education and academic achievement of children. In Uganda, a link has been
established between health and education. Children’s health problems caused in
part by nutritional deficiencies in poor families constrain the potential
benefits of education. Schools can therefore help resolve these shortcomings through
school feeding programs as has been done in industrialized and increasingly in
developing countries.

A study into the causes of poor
learning in northeastern Brazil, an economically depressed region, shows that
poor health and nutrition have ranked high on the list. Investigations
established that malnutrition and the associated ill health had caused the
affected students to perform noticeably below the established norms. The most
consistent finding was that malnutrition was associated with poor school
performance. Students with the lowest achievements had the largest nutritional

Concerned about the impact of
nutritional deficiency on school performance, some governments in collaboration
with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations Education,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children Fund
(UNICEF), the World Bank and others have joined hands to reduce hunger among
school children and ensure uninterrupted school attendance through school
feeding programs.

The evaluation of school feeding
programs in Burkina Faso, Honduras and the Dominican Republic had revealed that
school enrolment increased, grade repetition and drop out plummeted after the
introduction of the programs. On the other hand, drop out increased in schools
where the programs had been discontinued. School feeding programs have also had
additional benefits. In addition to getting meals at school, girls get food
rations to take home thereby enabling them to stay in school and complete their
studies. Examples from Pakistan and Ghana show that the enrolment of girls
increased considerably.

Equipped with this information and
hands-on experience, ICOB decided that school feeding programs must be launched
in Kigezi. The local authorities working with parents, civic and religious
organizations would have the primary responsibility for this worthwhile
undertaking. Members of Parliament would have the responsibility for arranging
the collection of relevant information and linking the local efforts in their respective
constituencies with the central authorities and the international community for
assistance as appropriate. The media would be requested to provide space for
these efforts to be discussed and fully understood. Members of Parliament would
report progress to the annual Conventions of the ICOB.

The Convention was reminded of State
obligation to the welfare of children as contained in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights of 1948, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1959,
the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, the World Declaration on the
Survival, Protection and Development of Children of 1990 and the Special
Session of the United Nations General Assembly of 2002  and the Uganda Children Statute of 1996 all of
which contain provisions regarding the Right to Adequate Food. The Convention
was further reminded that as 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every effort should be made to
significantly improve children’s access to adequate and balanced diet in

The Convention resolved that a
letter on this and other resolutions should be addressed to the President of
Uganda, transmitting the gravity of hunger and its impact on school drop out
and performance and asking for his leadership in launching the school feeding
programs in all areas of Kigezi at the start of 2009.