The Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) was initiated in 2005 under former President John Agyekum Kufuor as a social protection intervention in the context of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) pillar III.
Successive governments have contributed to sustain it by expanding it to cover many rural basic schools across the country.
In 2016, the government, under former President John Dramani Mahama, launched the national School Feeding Policy as part of its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and achieve universal primary education.
The policy provides broad guidelines, strategies and institutional framework for the operationalisation of government policy towards reducing poverty through effective local economic development.
The goal of the policy is to deliver a well-organised, decentralised intervention, providing disadvantaged schoolchildren with nationally adequate, locally produced food, thereby reducing poverty through improved household incomes and effective local economic development.
The policy also envisions rapid national socio-economic development through a coordinated, integrated and accountable national school feeding programme, delivering improved nutrition for disadvantaged schoolchildren.
The policy objectives include the provision of sustainable social development support to children in deprived Ghanaian communities, strengthening collaboration and coordination between national and sub-national and fostering local economic development in food production.
The policy also provides a cross-cutting intervention related to gender sensitivity and social inclusivity, social accountability, environmental management and sustainability, as well as image building and information management for school feeding.
It is significant to note that the GSFP also provides an opportunity to pursue Ghana’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) 1 and 2, which seek to end poverty in all its forms and to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition while promoting sustainable agriculture.
At the time of the policy launch, the GSFP had covered about 5,530 public basic schools in 216 districts with a total enrolment of over 1,728,681 pupils across the country. The 1.7 million beneficiary children represented 36.6 per cent of national coverage, which the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government intends to scale up.
It is important to acknowledge the support the GSFP has received from institutions such as the Imperial College, London’s Partnership for Child Development (PCD) and the World Food Programme which worked in partnership with the GSFP.
Having been sustained for over a decade now, it is heartwarming to learn that validation of figures of beneficiaries in the GSFP has saved the state GH¢24 million termly.
According to the Director of Operations, Mr Robert Arday, the move to halt what, hitherto, could be financial leakages, started in 2016 when the GSFP was co-opted into the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (GCSP).
It is also heartwarming to learn that the programme has constantly collaborated with the Metropolitan Municipal and District Education Directorates to gather the exact figures of pupils in the beneficiary schools.
However, these gains have not been without challenges, which include low-level coordination at the district levels to check the nutrition value of the meals served the pupils, and absence of standardised kitchens in about 90 per cent of the beneficiary schools.
Another challenge is that payment for the GSFP is effected on credit basis, therefore a caterer needs to have financial muscle to engage in the programme.
The Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo-led government has initiated moves to ensure that the delay in the payment of caterers is resolved outright. This means that the GSFP will directly be paying caterers, thus the era when money was sent to the districts for onward disbursement to the caterers will be a thing of the past.
The MMDAs should also consider it their responsibility to provide standardised kitchens and check the nutrition value of meals served to the children.
The decision of the management of GSFP to implement the caterer-on-board guidelines policy, which is aimed at helping to de-politicise the programme when governments change, is laudable.
To this end, the performance of the caterers will be reviewed at the end of the 2016/17 academic year to identified caterers, after which the GSFP, through the GCSP Ministry, will implement the caterer-on-board policy.
Indeed, one of the objectives of the programme, which is to boost domestic food production, has not been achieved. It is, therefore, recommended that the government’s ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ policy should be directly linked with the local farmers for direct demand and supply of farm produce, and prompt payment.
With the advent of technology, a social intervention policy, such as the GSFP, could be monitored through a tech-driven social accountability project to put caterers and other programme players on their toes to get value for money, and to sustain the programme for generations unborn.