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School Feeding Programme in Zambia

By Kate Vorley, PCI and Mary Corbett, ENN

Kate Vorley has spent 12 years working in programme management at national and regional levels for international NGOs, faith based organisations and multi-lateral donors, with a primary focus on programmes working with OVC (under health care and education).

Enough energy to dance!

The authors would like to acknowledge the work of Project Concern International (PCI) as the implementing agency, and the World Food Programme-Zambia Country Office, as main donor to PCI/WFPs OVC Support Programme.

This article describes the experiences of a school-feeding programme supported by the World Food Programme through Project Concern International (PCI).

Zambia, with a population of under 10 million, is a highly urbanised country, with around 40% of the population living in the main cities. However, poverty remains a major problem and according to the living conditions monitoring survey of 1998, 73% of the population are considered to be living in poverty. The HIV pandemic, together with other public health issues, has exacerbated an already chronic situation. Currently it is estimated that 16% of the population aged between 15 and 49 years is HIV positive1. There is a significant gender difference, with much higher prevalence rates among females between 15- 24 years compared to men of the same age group (ranges of 17-25% for women, compared to 6-10% for men). The impact of HIV on families is substantial, with many households affected and a huge orphan/vulnerable children (OVC) population as a result. A Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) led study in the Southern Province indicated that one-third of 766 randomly selected households were hosting orphans.

Community schools

Community schooling is a particular Zambian approach. Due to the lack of sufficient numbers of government schools for all school-going age children, communities have set up their own informal basic schools. Normally, land is donated by a local chief or church (or sometimes rented) and a structure is built. The community schools are run with the support of local community based, non-governmental or religious organisations. Over time, the infrastructure expands through a combination of community financial support and outside donor funding. Most of the community schoolteachers are not trained and come from the very same communities that initiated the community school. They use whatever limited building is available (even open space) and have limited resources (mainly books, desks, blackboards, etc). Some teachers in these schools are now receiving government salaries, indicating that the government is acknowledging and supporting this educational system. Many of the schools appear to also have support from church groups or religious affiliations. The community school movement is managed by the Zambia Community Schools Secretariat, a local NGO mandated by the Government in the management and development of community schools in Zambia2.

The urban intervention

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) first commenced food assistance to community schools in Lusaka district of Lusaka province in January 2003, with Project Concern International (PCI) as the implementing partner. After six months of successful implementation, the project was scaled up and is now in two additional districts of Lusaka (Kafue and Chongwe). It serves a total of 205 community schools, as well as nine residential centres that cater for street children. Over 67,000 children each month are being supported with school feeding3. Many of the children enrolled in these schools are very marginalised, some are street children and a high proportion are affected by HIV (an estimated 40% - personal communication).


As many of these children have dropped out of the formal education system (and in some cases were never in it), older children of around 10-11 years of age often end up in grade 1. To try to deal with this, community schools follow an accelerated curriculum called SPARK4. The SPARK curriculum allows for only four school years or grades, instead of the normal seven grades typically adhered to in the formal education sector. Thus, two years are conflated into one grade. There is also a focus on life skills. Uniforms are not mandatory in community schools and there are no school fees - thereby reducing obstacles to attendance. However, if students do well in the community schools, they have an opportunity to attend secondary, and even tertiary, level education.

Major components of the Urban Intervention

a) School feeding intervention

The school feeding intervention commenced in January 2003 in the aftermath of the food and drought crisis of 2002. It was felt that urban populations were as much affected by food insecurity as the rural population, hence the urban nature of this intervention. The project targets both community schools and centres that cater for street children. Each school has its own Parents Community School Committee (PCSC), which is selected by the local community and is responsible for the overall management and running of the school. Community schools are therefore considered a communitybased organisation (CBO), and provision of food commodities to orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) through community schools is, in itself, a self-targeting mechanism. PCI works in partnership with these CBOs with the primary aim of increasing their capacity to manage school feeding programmes and overall, OVC programmes. The main objectives of the programme are:

The impact of the programme (under objective 1) is assessed by monitoring the number of students on the school enrolment registers and daily attendance rates.

Wet feeding and dry rations

For most schools, the assistance is in the form of one cooked meal a day, consisting of a wet ration of High Energy Protein Supplement (HEPS) and vegetable oil5, a locally produced fortified Soya blend donated by WFP and delivered by PCI andcooked on site by school volunteers6. All Community School Coordinators have been trained in the various aspects of managing school based feeding programmes ranging from community mobilization strategies, food preparation and handling and hygiene issues as well as report writing skills. A project orientation guide was developed in early 2003 and has been continuously revised to reflect lessons learnt during project implementation.

Initially it was planned that the feeding would be at 08.00 a.m., so that children would not attend classes on an empty stomach. In reality, most community schools tend to feed the children at approx. 10.00 a.m., to allow the community volunteers, who are themselves wives and mothers, to finish their households chores. All children in the target community schools are fed with the wet ration at the community school to avoid stigma. In addition to the wet ration, individual children identified as particularly vulnerable7 also receive a monthly family take home ration, consisting of a 50kg bag of grain. This targeting considers both economic and social status of households - child headed households are considered particularly vulnerable, while the dependency ratio at the household level is also taken into account.

b) HIV/AIDS component

The project also has a Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) component and PCI has trained a group of 20 youth as trainers in theatre for development (TFD) with technical assistance from the Zambia Open University. TFD involves the use of participatory assessment methodologies for qualitative and quantitative data collection and incorporation of key messages into drama, song and dance. It was used to strengthen the skills of local drama groups that work with schools and drop in centres to provide effective HIV/AIDS prevention for behaviour change and communication. The 20 TOTs in theatre for development skills have, in turn, trained a total of 144 OVC and 64 teachers in the three districts.
For BCC activities targeting OVC in the PCI supported residential centre for street children, a draft curriculum has been developed for HIV/AIDS education for this profile of OVC. This curriculum is complimented by appropriate Theatre for Development materials that were developed in collaboration with 30 street children (ranging from 9-20 years) from three of the residential centres benefiting from the PCI/WFP project.

c) School Based Agriculture component- Pilot Project

A school based agriculture pilot project has been implemented in 10 sites8 under a pilot phase. The aim of the school garden project is to enable site management to produce or access resources (from the garden or sale of produce) to manage their own school feeding programmes.
The school garden concept has the following objectives:

Two teachers from each of the 10 sites were trained in vegetable production, field crops, animal husbandry and fruit production. Atraining manual was used developed with support from a University of Zambia Consultant with input from key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

All sites have been provided with in-puts to kick start the pilot in three main agricultural areas - vegetable, fruit and poultry production as well as piggery. Additional training has been provided in the areas of plant protection, safe storage of chemicals, planting of field crops and fruit trees as well as record keeping (physical and financial records).

Findings from the pilot areas will assist in developing a realistic implementation plan for the scale up of this component to other participating community schools/residential centres.

Ongoing challenges

At present, PCI is supplying WFP food to over 67,000 children in 214 community schools and centres in three districts. Absolute enrolment9 and attendance rates have increased by 26.6% and 40%10 respectively but there remain numerous challenges.

Increased workload

Many schools find it difficult to turn away students, putting strain on the physical school capacity, i.e. space in classrooms, class size, etc., and creating an additional workload for the teachers which may adversely affect the quality of teaching and record keeping. As a result, in some schools, the two-class rotation (whereby some students come in the morning while others attend in the afternoon) has been replaced by three sessions - especially for the junior classes. This means that the students have less contact time with the teachers in the school.

The reduced contact time and larger class sizes may have a serious negative impact on academic results. However, anecdotally, teachers feel that the school feeding has made a big positive difference with a reduction in numbers of children dropping out. Also, many of the children no longer come to school hungry, so that concentration levels have improved. There are plans to formally measure the impact of learning achievement on OVC in the near future.


At the onset, monitoring daily attendance at the classroom level was poor. Strict monitoring and accounting of the food, record keeping and store capacity have also been difficult in some schools. However, measurement tools and training have since been provided by PCI, and attendance data are now available. PCI continues to sensitise local communities on the rationale for the programme and works in close collaboration with 'Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS)'. This is a locally based NGO, who provide additional support in monitoring the project at the school level in ZOCS' affiliated community schools (21 of the 205 community schools) who are part of the feeding project.

Food Management

Due to the increased school numbers and rotation system for actual classroom sessions, the on-site cooking needs to be done more than once a day. Fuel for cooking is often a limitation, with charcoal not available or used up quickly (PCI plans to explore possibilities of an energy-saving cooking 'jiko'11 to address this concern). Also, securing community volunteers to do the cooking has occasionally been difficult, so that community sensitisation continues to be a top priority for PCI Food Aid Monitors.

There has been some abuse of food items, particularly in urbanized settings. In such instances, distribution of food commodities to sites (esp. grain) has had to be halted while PCI works closely with the school's PCSC to put effective food control systems in place.

Since PCI and WFP cannot guarantee the continued availability of grain, the project now uses a specific targeting tool that aids identification of the most vulnerable households with OVC12.


Water availability has been an issue in some schools, and although UNICEF have supported certain schools with boreholes, lack of ownership of land in certain cases prevented some needy schools from benefiting from this component. Communities continue to be sensitised to the need for 'getting involved' in revenue generating activities that will enable schools to own their own land. In spite of the above, and in addition to the progress made towards key education indicators, it is worth noting that project has also been able to facilitate a considerable increase in parent's participation in the education of their children in participating community schools. Anecdotal reports from the partners indicate a notable increase in community involvement in OVC school activities as a result of the Urban Intervention. High attendance levels by parents in community meetings to discuss community school plans and identify ways of remunerating teachers at the school have been reported to PCI. Mothers continue to be primarily involved in the wet ration preparation, as well in collecting firewood to facilitate the same.

Future plans

Children (OVC) taking porridge at school

School feeding will continue for a further one to three years (Jan 2005 to Dec 2007) under WFPs "Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation" programme (PRRO). The programme will place more emphasis on 'recovery' than on 'relief', and focus on more sustainable measures to support OVCs at the community school level.

It is recognised that analysis enrolment and attendance data from all schools is important in order to better understand the impact of the programme. Daily attendance and student results have been analysed in June 2003 and July 2004. However, due to limited CBO capacity, these data have not been disaggregated on the basis of gender until recently. CBOs have now been trained to do this and gender based data is being gathered on a daily basis at the school level and submitted to PCI on a monthly basis.

PCI aims to put in place a more inter-sectoral approach to school feeding and it is envisaged that collaboration with other UN13 donor agencies will be increased/realised. Also, additional stakeholders and funding sources will be identified to ensure a multi-sectoral and integrated support programme for OVC that access education through community schools.

For further information, contact Kate Vorley, OVC Support Programme (Urban Intervention)-Project Coordinator, P. O. Box 32320, Lusaka, ZAMBIA.Tel: 260 1 256735/6/8, email:

Show footnotes

1Source: Central Statistics Office, Zambia, 2002.

2Estimated at over 2000 community school nationwide.

322 school days estimated for each month.

4School, Participation, Access and Relevant Knowledge

5100g of HEPS and 10g of oil is provided for each child/school day

6A 50-kg bag of grain is provided to the center to facilitate lunch and/or supper meal preparation, in addition to the HEPS supplied.

7Under a prescribed targeting criteria developed by both PCI and WFP

8The selected schools were selected on the basis of a needs assessment but are representative of the general situation in most community schools.

9Total number of girls and boys enrolled in all schools and benefiting from PCI/WFP's UI.

10Based on 25 schools sampled after training in records keeping had been undertaken in Oct 2004.

11A portable stove that uses charcoal as fuel. With proper use and maintenance, it has been shown to reduce fuel use by 30 to 50%. See Energy and Resources Group at and case study at

12These OVC need to be attending a PCI/WFP supported school to qualify for the grain targeting.

13In addition to the aforementioned bore holes delivered to 12 of the schools, UNICEF Zambia has also supplied a variety of teaching and learning materials to 100 of the schools whilst New Zealand Aid has provided similar support to one of the community schools in Kafue District

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Reference this page

Kate Vorley and Mary Corbett (). School Feeding Programme in Zambia. Field Exchange 25, May 2005. p21.



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