The National School Nutrition Programme was established in 1994 as one of the first initiatives of the first post-apartheid democratic Government of South Africa. The programme is fully funded by the Government through a Conditional Grant and targets schools with learners from disadvantaged communities. The programme initially focused on primary school learners but currently also caters for secondary school learners and provides meals to nearly 9 million learners per student. The NSDP is the government programme that provides one nutritious meal to all learners in poorer primary and secondary schools. The ambition is to dole out nutritious meals to learners so as to enhance their ability to learn, comprehend and utilise their learning opportunities. According to its 2013/14 annual report, the programme has reached more than 9 million learners in quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools. The purpose of its creation is to improve the learning capacity of learners through the provision of a healthy meal at schools. Where it is implemented, the programme has shown to improve punctuality, regular school attendance, concentration and the general wellbeing of participating learners however it’s not only for students benefits, the programme also teaches learners and parents how to lead a healthy lifestyle, and promotes the development of school vegetable gardens.
Over the years the South African government had shown focus and seriousness towards this development as it created this phases for the programme, such as school feeding, nutrition education and establishment and maintenance of food gardens in schools. As a country, she envisages that the NSNP will encourage healthy eating habits and will contribute to the growth, development, improved learning, and acquisition of skills, improved learner retention and the reduction of absenteeism. Studies show that In 2005, school-age children showed signs of nutritional problems in the form of stunting (18%), wasting(4%) and overweight(6%), and up to 20% of households experienced food insecurity. Hence, education is a key instrument of government service with over 95% of children enrolled in school, with no gender bias in attendance and participation.
South Africa became one of the most responsive government that participated in the on-going programme of research jointly developed by the World Food Programme, the World Bank, and the Partnership for Child Development aiming to contribute to the body of knowledge on school feeding programmes in both middle and low-income countries. Ever since, the South African government has grown in development of her national nutritional programme, in which the description of the (NSNP) in South Africa have been passing through the some proposed standards and had been helping the growth of this programme.
Implementation of NSNP
It should be noted that the South African government programme design and implementation is a top-notch own. The NSNP has been aiding in implementing a poverty alleviation programme and an educational intervention. From 1994 to 2003 the programme was run by the Department of Health and thereafter by the Department of Basic Education (DBE). In April 2004, the transfer to the DBE was accompanied by major shifts starting with the programme name being changed from the Primary School Nutrition Programme to the National School Nutrition Programme.
In this scheme, the government do regularly make sure that she addresses the skills-building of learners and community members in taking more responsibility for their health and physical development through improved hygiene practices and vegetable production. Also, the government had to be focusing on sustainable food production. Many schools have established food gardens to varying degrees of success. The purpose of the gardens is for education and skills-building and not to supply ingredients for the school meal.
The South African Nutritional programme being transferred has encouraged a number of implementation policies, guidelines and strategic directives developed to enable the implementation and monitoring of the program at national, provincial and district level. The main policy document, the conditional grant framework, which is the agreement between DBE and the National Treasury and is adapted annually to reflect the increased funds allocated per learner and the expected quality and accounting standards. In this same system, there is a well-established NSNP unit at the national office of the DBE that develops policy, manages the funds, and guides the implementation and monitoring of the NSNP. A suitable number of officials with diverse expertise and responsibilities are employed at provincial and district levels to support the implementation of the NSNP.
Funding for NSNP programme
Seemingly, the programme has been regularly funded through a Conditional Grant by the State, ensuring there is a ring-fenced budget each year. Through this Conditional Grant, the NSNP officials have to budget and account for all the funds received for the programme. Since the NSNP enjoys considerable political support in South Africa, it continues to receive funding through the National Treasury and is seen as a long-term commitment. The NSNP has created a number of jobs for permanent, contractual, and voluntary persons (stipend payment) within the programme.
The NSNP guidelines also require a school-based committee to oversee the planning and implementation of the daily meal served to learners and promote the school garden development, but it is difficult to establish if this is operational across the country. In each committee, at least one member of the School Governing Body should be present. In some instances, this member is very active and assists with food procurement and monitoring activities.
Benefits of NSNP programme to the Community
A number of community members benefit from being engaged as volunteer food handlers at the schools and receive a stipend which is reviewed yearly. Moreover, due to the different procurement models being used, there are many small businesses and cooperatives which benefit from being commissioned to supply the ingredients for the meals. However, there is generally very little community participation in the meal provision or school garden beyond a few parents being involved in the school nutrition committee.
It’s evident that the NSNP is a large government-sponsored programme reaching over 8 million students in primary and secondary schools every school day. The emphasis of the programme is on the provision of the daily balance and diverse cooked meal, with nutrition education and sustainable food production being the other two pillars of the programme.
In conclusion, as impactful as the NSNP programme might be, there is the room for improvement in the implementation of the NSNP especially when it comes to promoting sustainable food production in schools and meaningful collaboration with departments such as the DAFF in involving small scale farmers and developing the capacity and market for local farmers. There may also be a need to develop a consolidated framework for NSNP implementation in light of supporting other schemes in South Africa that are relative to this programme.