Home » Columns » New schools diet is deceptive

New schools diet is deceptive

Publishing Date : 03 October, 2017

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

Many years ago an opposition Member of Parliament successfully moved a motion calling for the improvement of the quality of diet in primary schools.  Since then government has been procrastinating.

When it was recently reported that the executive arm of government has finally decided to introduce diet variety in primary schools through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development expectations were raised among key stakeholders.
The status quo is a dull, monotonous, and unappetizing diet at primary schools. The fact that such a diet was found to be suitable to children since independence goes to show the extent to which government does not really care about the future of Batswana children. The most vulnerable and voiceless section of the population continue to be provided with the poorest meals in the education system.  

We may never get to understand why it took government years to even contemplate implementing such a straight forward school feeding policy in primary schools. If the idea was to pass time hoping that Batswana will forget about the originator of the idea, this submission demonstrates that they have not succeeded. For years the ruling party has tried with little success to push the argument that the opposition is only good at identifying problems and criticizing without coming up with solutions.  It is for this reason that they will not want to implement proposals from the opposition parties. In their shortsighted view if they did that the opposition will enjoy the limelight.

Before further discussion of the proposed additions into the school diet it is essential to give a brief background to the current feeding program in primary schools. In the early years of present day Botswana the main objective of the program was to act as an incentive aimed at improving attendance and reducing school drop-out.  Nutrition was not an important consideration.  Hence diet variety was never an issue except on paper. Older citizens who attended primary school in the late 1960s and early 1970s would recall the famous corn-soya-milk (CSM) meal product donated by the United States of America. The cooking oil added to it enhanced the quality of school meals.

The equivalence to CMS is Tsabana, a sorghum-based product targeted at children below the age of five.  The only missing ingredients were cooking oil and dried skimmed milk. Attempts to domesticate primary school feeding program proved to be a disaster as the meals were only comparable to those provided to inmates in prisoners.  In some instances primary school meals are worse than that. In fact compared to primary schools, food provided to illegal immigrants and refugees is of better quality.  It is not uncommon to find children feeding on plain dark tasteless beans or plain   samp, the type of meal that the Minister of Basic Education would feed to her pet dogs. The basic rule should be that if it is not good for the Minister it cannot be good for the children.

Under the current feeding program food supplies in schools are irregular resulting in pupils going for weeks without a single meal.  A quick enquiry at some schools revealed empty stocks of milk. According the Weekendpost (Saturday 23-29 September 2017) government intends to introduce a new diet in primary schools with new food additions including vegetables, fruits, eggs, and milk.  However, the justification for the newly introduced program lacks clarity. Officials from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development suggest that the revised diet is intended to enhance the nutritive value of the meals served. On the other hand the program seeks to open up a market for local produce from government funded empowerment as well as poverty alleviation projects.

It is worth noting that milk and fruits are not new additions to the diet. As indicated above milk supply remains a challenge at some schools.  Fruits in the form of water melons have also been part of the diet at primary schools in recent years. Needless to say locally produced water melons are seasonal.  Apparently the intention is to replace water melons and greens (letlhafula) with eggs and vegetables.  

Food supply at both primary and secondary has been a complete chaos. On a number of occasions boarding secondary schools have resorted to closing schools on account of failure to adequately maintain adequate food supplies.  The challenge of food supplies in public schools is partly attributable to inadequate funding.

Under the current regime long established budgetary processes have virtually collapsed. Every financial year government departments run out of funding a few months after budgetary allocations by parliament. Money allocated by parliament is diverted from specific budget line items to those preferred by the powers that be with ease. Disaster relief and school feeding funds are not spared.

According to media reports additional food items will be included in future fund permitting.  The truth is that the supply of the proposed food items will be dependent upon the availability of funding.  Government has a tendency of spending money they don’t have. For example the much acclaimed Economic Stimulus Program (ESP) consisting of twenty five houses at Machaneng was constructed by Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) on behalf of government.  Unconfirmed sources say that government still owns BHC reimbursements.  After more than a year since construction the houses are still not occupied. Houses are constantly vandalized.

It is inconceivable that a system that failed to supply dried food stuff and canned products can realistically supply fresh produce such as vegetables and eggs.  The logistics of handling the type of food stuff is lacking in most if not all primary schools. There is bound to be excessive wastage.

The idea that the proposed school feeding program provides a market for locally produced fresh produce is misleading. It is a well-known fact that Botswana has a huge market for vegetables, fruits, eggs, and milk.  In the same report that introduces the new diet program it is stated that in Botswana 50 per cent of food commodities are imported, especially from South Africa. The situation is worse in respect of vegetables, milk and eggs proposed in the new diet.

One is reminded of the infamous Presidential Directive that was meant to support small-scale caterers and vendors by allowing them to sell their cooked food stuff in public buildings and offices. The program was a complete disaster and has since been abandoned. Surprisingly no systematic evaluation of the program was ever conducted in order to avoid similar errors in future. When it comes to ill-conceived programs government is predictable. After a close examination of the proposed food items one can safely conclude that the new additions will be introduced without a financial budgetary allocation.



Do you think the closure of BCL will compel SPEDU to double their efforts in creating job opportunities in the Selibe Phikwe?