While concerns have been raised over the reopening of schools on the 1st of June, there has been equal concern over the nine million children who are heavily reliant on the national school nutrition programme.
On Tuesday evening, minister of basic education Angie Motshekga announced that grades 12 and 7 would resume schooling on the 1st of June in a bid to salvage the 2020 schooling year. The department of basic education’s (DBE) school feeding programme will resume in the same phased way.
According to prof. Ruth Hall of the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), the national school nutrition programme is one of the most crucial interventions in the country to make sure that every child has access to adequate nutrition.
The disruption and closure of schools has had a negative impact on the basic human rights of children, Hall said in an interview with SABC News.
Many children who rely on school feeding schemes have been left stranded. The DBE scheme, Hall says, is a lifeline to especially disadvantaged and vulnerable children throughout the country.
“We know that despite poverty, despite the gaps in our social grant systems the children in poor areas who attended school are getting one solid meal per day, and sometimes this would be the only meal.”
School feeding schemes play a vital role in ensuring that many children in disadvantaged South African communities are fed and receive the adequate nutrition to keep them alive and healthy.
In SA alone nine million children benefit from the school feeding scheme.
“It was clear from the beginning that a public health crisis would quickly become a hunger crisis,” Hall said.
The South African food system is complex, she added. While we may have ample production activity, this does not trickle down to the household level. “On the one hand we produce plenty of food to feed everybody in the country, but we know that there is a chronic problem of food security.”
“The problem is not production, nor is it distribution, it is people’s access to get enough money to buy food,” said Hall.
Malnutrition cases in hospitals have since increased. With the national lockdown came loss of informal jobs, she says. Many parents lost the income they used to buy food, even while losing the one thing children could rely on for a solid meal. At the same time the lockdown of the informal sector combined with other things has led to a spiking food crisis.
During her announcement on the phased-in reopening of schools, minister Motshekga also indicated that the schools feeding programme would resume once schools open on the 1st of June. She indicated that the programme would be phased in in line with the department’s recovery plan for the 2020 schooling year.
Extra safety precautions will be taken to ensure hygienic standards are met for food preparation.
“The nutrition programme will be reopened for all learners when grades 12 and 7 are reintroduced to schools on the June 1st. All food handlers will be supplied with the required personal protective equipment including gloves, aprons, and cloth masks. These have already been procured by provinces as part of a basic health and hygiene package.”