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Piloting a sustainable model for home grown school meals in Malawi

Children eating porridge at one of the target schools in MalawiKondwani Nanchukwa and Blessings Mphande

Kondwani Nanchukwa holds a Bachelors degree in Family Science and a Masters degree in Rural Development. He is currently the Programmes Director for the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (FISD) in Malawi.

Blessings Mphande holds a Diploma in Irrigated Agriculture and is the Project Officer for FSID.

Background

The Government’s Ministry of Education (MoE) in Malawi recognizes that many pupils come to school hungry, drop out rates are high and girls’ enrolment in primary school is low. Although admission rates to primary schools initially soared by more than 80 per cent after free education was introduced in Malawi in the mid-1990s (News from Africa, 2002), Malawi has one of the highest school dropout rates in southern Africa, with 11 per cent of girls, and 10 per cent of boys, dropping out between grades five and eight (National Education Update, 2014). To address this, the MoE School Health and Nutrition Strategy (2008) advocates for the provision of school meals, with a goal to scale up school meals to all schools in Malawi by 2040.

The School Meals Programmes (SMP) in Malawi started in 1999, with a pilot in Dedza District, targeting 23,000 school going children from 24 primary schools. The programme was started by World Food Programme (WFP) in response to request by the government. A standard SMP in Malawi provides children with a cooked porridge made from a fortified blended flour (corn and soya beans). About 35% of school going children benefit from a SMP in Malawi today. Over 95% of SMPs in Malawi are based on the direct supply of this fortified blended flour to the schools. A significant challenge to these programmes is that they are externally funded and start and stop based on whether there is donor funding. The Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (FISD) has developed and is piloting a sustainable SMP model to address this challenge.

Overview of the pilot

From May 2014 to March 2015 FISD has been piloting a ‘Home Grown’ SMP that supports local production of food items for school children’s lunches from school gardens with solar powered water pumps. The aim of the pilot is to develop a school garden that provides a sustainable and sufficient supply of food to feed the school children all year round with no need for additional foods from external sources.  Ultimately it is hoped that this will increase primary school enrolment and reduce absenteeism and drop-outs.

The pilot is being implemented at two primary schools in Lilongwe District (Nkhupa and Chiponde Primary Schools). The project was developed based on learning from FISD’s school meals experience in 60 primary school and Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs) since 2008. Key aspects of learning from these projects that contributed to the design of the pilot include:

In the pilot, one acre of land for gardening per school was identified. A water pump powered by solar energy was installed. Crops grown in the gardens include maize, soya beans and seasonal vegetables such as pumpkins and cucumber. Community members are trained in processing the food from the gardens and preparing highly nutritious meals. The communities mill the mixture of maize and soya beans in commercial mills that are locally owned. Funds for milling are contributed by the parents of school children. The typical school meal is comprised of a blended flour made of whole white/yellow maize (65%), whole soya (25%) and sugar (10%) which contains 14% protein, 6% fat, 5% fibre and a total of 350 kcal/100g (at a minimum). It is recognized that this flour is not fortified; work is on-going to identify ways to improve the nutritional content of the flour. This flour is typically prepared into porridge, supplemented with seasonal vegetables and fruits and served to schoolchildren for lunch. The one-acre school gardens provide for an average of 1500 children per school year.

A key component of the project is working with the communities. Communities must take part from the beginning of the project, and be engaged throughout. During the development of the project, meetings are held with the community to jointly identify problems around sending children to school and nutritional challenges of school aged children. The project is then explained to the communities so that they understand the importance of home grown school meals as a strategy to increase enrolment and retention, particularly of girls. A joint action plan is developed in which the communities and all the players involved including FISD indicate their contributions to the project.

The gardens are managed by community members through School Management Committees (SMC). At least one teacher is designated as the School Health and Nutrition teacher and h/she takes primary responsibility for the garden along with the SMC. Community members and teachers are not paid or provided incentives for managing the garden. School children are also involved in the gardens with the teachers through their agricultural lessons. During school holidays, community members take care of the gardens.

Cooking facilities and supplies are provided by the project. Fuel (fire wood) is provided by parents of the school children and members of the community. The project is trying to promote the use of paper briquettes to reduce the use of fire wood.

Funding

It costs approximately $16, 000 USD to set up a school garden which includes cost for geo-physical surveys, solar pumps, cement and labour for construction of water tanks. After the garden is built and an irrigation system installed, the only external support that is required is seed and fertilisers.

Multi-sector Government support

FISD collaborates with several Government Ministries throughout the project. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security provides agricultural extension support throughout the different phases of the project. FISD hands over the responsibility of continued agriculture support of the school garden at the end of the project (after 18 months). The MoE provides policy direction to ensure that it adheres to the School Health Nutrition Country Strategy. The Ministry of Health and Population provides de-worming, vitamin A supplementation and technical guidance in the formulation of school meals menus.

Challenges

Scarcity of land. In schools that are close to townships, there is often not enough land for a one-hectare garden.

Domestic livestock. Livestock such as goats and sheep can damage crops, especially during winter, when animals in rural areas are normally on free range. In the two pilot gardens, barbed wire was installed around the gardens to prevent this.

On-going funding. Donors initially provided funding for one year for each pilot garden. While this includes the large costs associated with the irrigation system and fencing, fertilizer, seeds and upkeep of the garden will incur a small on-going cost to the community.

Results and learning

The main result is that school children now have access to school meals. In addition, school enrollment has increased by 10% and absenteeism and dropouts have been reduced by 40%. Girls’ enrolment specifically has increased by 25% whereas absenteeism and dropout rates for girls have decreased by 12% and 35% respectively.

One main point of learning from the pilot is that gardens need external financial support (primarily for agricultural inputs and technical advice) for longer than one year. The donor of the pilot project has extended funding for an additional six months in the pilot schools. For future school gardens, FISD will plan for 18-24 months of external support.

Next steps

Whilst FISD is the first organisation to pilot this concept, other organisations have shown interest and are visiting the pilot schools with an idea to replicate this model. In 2015 FISD is facilitating site visits for interested organisations to learn more about the model.

A donor has approved funding for the scale up of the model to 10 more schools from April 2015 to December 2016.

FISD is looking into how to help schools establish income generating activities through the SMC so that they are able to continue to run the gardens after the external funding ends.

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Kondwani Nanchukwa and Blessings Mphande (2016). Piloting a sustainable model for home grown school meals in Malawi. Nutrition Exchange 5, May 2015. p21. www.ennonline.net/nex/5/pilothomegrownmealmalawi

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