Food for Thought Communal School Feeding Programme
A communal school feeding initiative for rural primary schools that is based on pooling resources and multi sectoral collaboration.
Children receiving school lunch that was prepared from food grown on a communal school farm.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Central Region, Uganda
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I am Ugandan, and a life long resident of the country. My personal lived experiences and interactions with the people in this country have been the foundation of the formation of my identity. I have been a development worker for almost nine years, working in rural development all over the country. Thus, over my career, rural areas have been my focus, and the places where I have been employed.
Four years ago when I became interested in the food and Agriculture sector in particular, I started to learn as much as I could about the sector. At this point rural central Uganda, became the backdrop of my learning, research and growing focus on agri food systems. When I learned that Uganda is one of the lowest countries with the school feeding coverages in the world, I joined efforts with some rural communities to find a low cost solution to this issue. Green Pencil, a community based organisation was born in Mukono District, Central Uganda.
My interest in the transformation of agri food systems, and rural development in general continues to be kindled the potential I see in the people I have met, and the rural areas that I have worked lived and visited in central Uganda. I recognise that poor rural residents in central Uganda have a unified sense of their limitations and close relationships with the land, which is why I am positive that a community led school feeding programme would be very effective there, once it has been proven to work.
Working in rural central Uganda has helped me to build a strong and diverse skill set, and given me very unique knowledge. I have also gained experiences that can only make me a better development worker, such as the ability to learn from, and work alongside people of a different culture than mine.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Google map highlighting central region of Uganda. Image source: Google
Central Uganda is one of the four regions of Uganda, covers an area of 61,403 kilometres. It is more commonly referred to as Buganda, and is named after the ancient Kingdom of Buganda, a constitutionally recognised ancient monarchy under whose jurisdiction it falls. It can be accessed by tarmac and dirt roads which provide access to also all areas of the region. It is divided into 26 districts which serve as administrative and commercial centres. The Equator crosses through central Uganda at Kayabwe, Mpigi district, 72 kilometres west of Kampala City.
Geographically, central Uganda is blessed with part of Lake Victoria and lake kyoga two of the African great lakes and the largest fresh water lakes in EastAfrican region. The vegetation is mostly savannah mosaic, characterised by patches of dense forest. The region is mostly plateau and there are many wetlands. Climate is generally tropical with two rainy seasons, two dry seasons. The annual rainfall is 11,000mm.
Central Uganda has an estimated population of 9,529,277. The people are predominantly Bantu by ethnicity. People in this region speak Luganda, Lusoga, Swahili and English. The regions is religious and the population is mostly christian, but there are significant number of moslems and few people who believe local religions.. People often go to church on Sundays and to the mosque on Fridays. In rural areas, is is customary for women and children to kneel down before they greet or are greeted.
Majority of the population in the rural areas is employed in subsistence agriculture and produce their own food. The major crops grown are bananas, cassava, beans, potatoes, coffee, yams and indigenous vegetables. Livestock includes cattle, goats, pigs and poultry. These foods also constitute the local diets. Meals are prepared by women and girls, as boys age twelve and above do not sit in the kitchen, which is usually separate from the main house. The people of this region are known for cooking their food in banana leaves, which gives it a distinct aroma. Food is normally cooked on cooking stones using firewood, and people typically eat one or two meals a day. A short prayer is usually said before a meal.
Other economic activities include fishing, on the different landing sites on Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga, and occasionally fish farming. The major species of fish in this region are nile perch, tilapia, silver fish and lung fish. Mining, specifically stone quarrying is also carried out. Tourism happens in the urban areas of the region, but rural areas do not benefit from it.
In central Uganda, the family unit, consists of parents, children, and often times members of their extended families such as aunts or in-laws. Men have authority in the family and household chores are usually split among the women and girls. Men usually pay bride price for acquisition of their wives and usually own all the land. All infant and child care is undertaken by women and older girls at home.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Many parents in rural central Uganda hope that their children will attend school and gain an education to secure a bright future for themselves and their families. Tragically, for far too many of these bright youth this hope is threatened by hunger at school. In 2016, Daily Monitor reported the school administration of rural primary schools were struggling with keeping the children in classes since only half of them turned up for afternoon classes due to hunger. Sadly, this is just one example of many; 4 months later Daily Monitor reported that children in government aided primary schools were starving at school because of the failure of parents and school managers to implement the government feeding policy. Almost 4 years later, this situation has not changed at all.
In Uganda, the Education Act of 2008 (article 13c) places the responsibility of providing meals at school on parents and guardians. The government issued the Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports Guidelines on School Feeding and Nutrition Intervention Programme to enable schools and parents provide a meal for their children.Working within these guidelines, most rural, low resource, government-aided schools require parents to contribute money for one meal a day – a cup of porridge at lunch. Schools report that less than a half of parents are able to meet this requirement. When the “porridge fund” runs out, students typically go without meals at school – all day, for weeks at time. For a country where, according to a World Bank study, 92% of children in rural areas go to school without having had breakfast, this situation is alarming.
Uganda has one of the lowest school feeding programme coverages in the world. This stark reality is not only a significant cause of the high number of school drop outs, but also contributes to low learning rates, negatively affects children's behaviour, and may impede cognitive development, resulting in lifelong consequences. Communities across Uganda are depending on their young learners to be the future drivers of development, but the lack of adequate nutrition for these children robs them of their potential. The lack of assurance of a meal at school also denies them a productive safety net that would otherwise transfer significant value to these children’s households freeing their income and resources to invest in other productive economic pursuits.
Uganda aims to be a middle income country according to the current 30 year National Development Plan, Vision 2040. The current government policy for school feeding does not necessarily cater for children from the poorest households. If nothing changes at all, in 2050 the poorest children will continue to be malnourished, hungry, uneducated, and will continue to be, and propel intergenerational cycles of poverty. There will also be great environmental stress due to cooking on the lowest technology available - firestones, using firewood, from the already heavily deforested rural areas.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Green Pencil will partner with school communities and the local government to create communally-run school farms whose main purpose is to grow food for school meals. This vision builds on, and leverages existing initiatives to solve the problem of parents not having enough money to pay for school meals. By pooling resources we can grow enough beans, maize, cassava and vegetables to last the entire school year, for each and every child at school, construct a storage facility and an energy saving cooking stove. The wholesome nutritious meal would include a traditional maize bread known as “posho” eaten with bean sauce, which is the common choice of food for education institutions in Uganda, supplemented by / alternated with vegetables, cassava, matooke (green banana) and other protein and carbohydrate sources.
In this vision, Green Pencil works with local businesses to provide the start up inputs for the school farm such as seed and organic fertiliser, as well as advanced low cost technology in food storage and cooking. The school farm also takes advantage of existing government programmes for rural farmers such as the distribution of cassava cuttings to rural farming groups. This method works because for many poor parents in rural areas, it is much cheaper to contribute physical labour on the farm, than to pay for meals at school, especially if they have multiple children attending school.
We shall work within the Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports Guidelines on School Feeding and Nutrition Intervention we will utilise all the existing knowledge tools and expertise of the partners that have contributed to the creation of the guidelines. We will work through existing structures such as the local government at sub county level, and school management committees at school level.
This communal school feeding programme is designed to operate as an environmentally friendly system, and will practices, methods and technology that have already been proven to contribute to environmental preservation. These include; Permaculture, organic fertiliser, and energy saving cooking places.
Two sustainability measures have been built into this plan. 1) A portion of each school farm is dedicated to growing cash crops and the farm income raised is used to buy inputs for the following season, as well as eggs, milk or silver fish from local farmers, to ensure the school lunch is nutritionally balanced. Another deliberate consequence of this is promotion of local agribusinesses and jobs, since the local farmers and the people who work for them will be the parents or household members of the children at our target schools. Increase in economic activity will generally lead to a decrease in poverty. 2) Participation is voluntary and school communities will submit a proposal for their school feeding programme. This ensures community ownership.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The collective responsibility attribute of this vision is paramount in ensuring that children living in absolute poverty are included in accessing meals at school and subsequently gaining an education. Within six months, we will see social returns on the initial start-up investment in form of well-fed children, and increased school attendance and enrolment. The children who will have previously stayed home because their parents couldn't afford to contribute for a cup of porridge, will now attend school and have a complete nutritious meal while there. School age going children that neglect school to work in stone quarrying or the fishing business to earn a little money for food, will not attend school fully because they do not have to worry about going hungry.
Healthy and well fed children attend school more, learn better, and have a higher ability to apply the concepts they have learnt. The resulting educational outcomes and skills should lead to higher earnings later in life. For children from the poorest households, this is what will break intergenerational cycles of hunger and poverty.
For the children’s families this communal school feeding model provides much needed social support because school meals represent a transfer of income to the receiving child’s household. This provides a safety net, leaving parents, especially the mothers to pursue productive employment and thus increase their household income and financial security. This will help the family to be more resilient to the effects of disasters, such as drought which is becoming increasingly common in central Uganda, the resulting increased food prices, or the sickness of a family member.
For the community, local procurement of agricultural inputs and supplementary food such as milk or fish will strengthen local agricultural production and economic activity.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Illustration of community activities. Image source: scalingupnutrition.org
In the year 2050, every rural primary school has communal school feeding programme and every child attending those schools has an assurance of a school meal. The food for meals is grown in two seasons each year, and supplemented by purchases from local agricultural producers. The school community, led by a school feeding committee manages the school farm and oversees the quality and preparation of food. The school feeding facilities include an energy saving cooking place and a food storage facility.
Having a food storage facility onsite improves post-harvest practices, makes the food accessible, reduces waste, and eliminates costs associated with transporting food over a long distance, and insulates the school from shocks resulting from increasing food prices, low yields or drought.
This communal school feeding model addresses the following interconnected themes.
The communal school feeing programme increases the nutritional content, and the frequency of meals for both the children and their families. The nutritional content is balanced by providing as part of meals at school food which is commonly eaten at home, in addition to vegetables or other protein foods. Data from focus group discussions (in 2017) showed that once children are having nutrias food that they enjoy at school, their families are influenced to prepare the same food at home. In this particular case, parents are influenced in two ways; since they are involved in provision of food in the school feeding programme, they transfer the knowledge gains to their homes, and also start to prepare food according to their children’s preferences, which they have learned at school.
Frequency of meals increases for very poor families who normally would have one meal a day, in the evening. So in addition to the evening meal, the children would have lunch at school, and due to household cost savings over time from school feeding, the families eventually afford to have breakfast.
This communal school feeding vision builds on and works within the Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports Guidelines on School Feeding and Nutrition Intervention Programme. These guidelines were developed to assist implementation of parent-led school feeding programmes to improve child health, nutrition and educational performance. Specifically, our communal school feeding model addresses the policy weakness of very poor children not being catered for in the recommended school feeding interventions - where parents have to pay a certain amount of money for children’s school meals per school term. The success of this model provides the foundation for the advocacy for a more inclusive policy that is aligned to local needs and a nationally owned school feeding programme.
For the children from poor households, being part of this communal school feeding programme is the most cost effective way to have school meals. For a start up cost of a school farm of about US$ 5 per child, which is split among Green Pencil, local government and the school community, a child can be assured of nutritious, satisfying meals for all of her school days. For reference, this child’s parents would have had to pay $10 per child per school term, for a cup of porridge at lunch. Communal school feeding works because for poor rural parents it is much cheaper for them to contribute a few days of communal labour on the school farm, than pay $10 three times a year for a cup of porridge at school, even more so when they have multiple school going aged children in their households.
Families whose children are part of the school feeding programme make positive gains over time because of the income transfer and are more resilient to challenges that prevent poor rural households from climbing out of poverty, such as food insecurity, lack of access to health services and unemployment.
The school farms achieve financial sustainability and independence over the longterm by dedicating a portion of the school farm to grow cash crops which are sold locally for farm income. The farm income is saved with local savings groups which makes the money accessible provided the added benefit of the school being able to obtain a loan for school farming activities should they ever need it.
Purchase of agricultural inputs for the communal school farms, food such as milk, eggs or silver fish to supplement the school meals, and the sale of “income crops” from the school farm boosts local economic activity and directly translates into economic growth, since in Uganda, agriculture plays a critical role in the economy. The services sector in rural central Uganda, particularly transport, and small (market) vendors also expands as a direct consequence of this boost in economic activity, and hence providing more opportunities for employment, for the parents or other household members of the target beneficiaries of the communal school feeding programme.
For environmental preservation, our school feeding model employs permaculture, a form of sustainable agriculture that replicates nature in the school farm, integrating perennial trees and plants with the food crops to increase quantity of produce, improve soil quality and extend harvest seasons and reverse deforestation. This ensures that the environment is not stressed and future generations are cared for.
The use of only organic fertiliser ensures that usage of chemicals on the school farm is reduced and only valuable nutrients are returned to the soil and water, which is important in replenishing the richness of the soil that has been lost over time. Organic fertiliser is produced locally from organic waste such as chicken droppings, kitchen compost from or dead plants from neighbouring school kitchen or neighbouring farmers and families, preventing a further cost to the environment.
Using energy saving cooking places that work by burning dried rubbish or bio fuel to prepare food at school provides an alternative to using charcoal and wood for cooking. This is essential in preventing deforestation that is so rampant in rural areas in central Uganda, since trees are the main source of cooking fuel. This also provides an inspiration for parents and neighbouring community members to replicate it in their own homes, after seeing proof that it works, and is cost effective.
A low cost irrigation system such as the motorised pump, treadle pump or solar pump, prevents the dependence on the school farm on rain fed agriculture, helps the farm to recover from the effects of drought, or floods and triggers a year round agricultural cycle. Many of these technologies are already being produced locally at Makerere University.
A ploughing machine is another low cost technology that can be operated by parents on the school farm, and help to mage the labour on the school farm, cover a large are in a short period of time reduce the burden of physical labour on the parents and the entire school community.
In terms of information technology, the school meals in our communal school feeding model have been planned and budgeted for using the online school meals planner developed by the Partnership for Child Development. This planner enables schools to create nutritionally balanced school meals based on existing country data collected by the World Food Programme. We then work backwards to determine how much food should be harvested, and planted. The school meal planner is designed to work in conjunction with community nutrition education programmes and is adaptable to the local context. It has already been used successfully in some countries.
The culture, in a “way of living” sense will be affected in that the school farms are not practising substance farming, which is what is prevalent in rural central Uganda, but rather sustainable farming farming which is what is necessary. The cultural aspects of food intake change as well, like the saving of protein rich foods such as eggs, milk and fish to be eaten on special occasions, because children are eating these foods regularly as part of their school meals.
The school community adopts new and possibly foreign food food storage, preservation and fortification techniques which are later on adopted by the entire community.
This school feeding model is particularly good for children from female headed households, as women land tenure rights are particularly fragile. children from these households benefit from a communal food system, even though their mothers or grand mothers may not own land.
This communal school feeding model succeeds by collaboration of different sectors and partners, such as the local government, education and research institutions, civil society, private sector and other development partners. Contribution from all these sectors create holistic systems change, and therefore the impact of the communal school feeding programme impact spills over to many different areas. In the long term, the beneficiaries of communal school feeding have improved educational and life outcomes; including broad-ranging ramifications for health, gender equity, income, and community development.
This communal school feeing model is inherently scalable. Because of the collaborative approach and grassroots approach, and one time, low cost initial investment, it can be easily replicated in other areas, once communities have seen that it works. Another way in which this model can be scaled up fast is to “sell” it to other grass roots organisations doing similar work so that they can implement community-led school feeding programmes in their own communities. A successfully communal school feeding programme is a strong foundation for an effective national school feeding programme.
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