20 November 2017

Uganda: How Big Is the Lunch Problem?

Mid last year, the National Planning Authority (NPA) held a half-day workshop at Hotel Africana, which explored possible interventions to propel the country to a middle-income status.

Among the presentations, NPA chairperson, Dr Kisamba Mugerwa, said there is no way Uganda could move from a peasant to modern economy when a section of her people are hungry.

"School feeding commonly works as part of social protection systems to support the most vulnerable families and children. If properly managed, it constitutes the surest way of standardizing the nutrition intake for this critical age bracket," Mugerwa said.

When the nutrition needs of school-age children are addressed, Kisamba added, it can help ensure that early development investments in nutrition are not jeopardized by later failures, ensuring a firm foundation for human capital development.

Mugerwa concluded by pleading with the education minister, Janet Museveni.

"I beg to move that if it is not possible to establish a viable, functional, effective School Feeding Unit in the ministry of Education and Sports, this undertaking be established as a Special Presidential Initiative," he said.

While the request was publicly dismissed by the minister, as something parents needed to pay urgent attention to, the matter has continued to nag at her conscience for some time.

Ms Museveni has sought to solve the problem through a variety of proposals, designed to keep state commitment to feeding school children to a minimum.

"The government is already committed to pay the children's tuition and other scholastic materials, asking it to also feed them is too much ... parents should also share in the burden and ensure that their children are fed," she has said on several occasions, both in ministry meetings and outside.

However, the provision of three meals per child per day is still a challenge not just for the state but the parent as well.

The 2016 Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) found that about one third (30 per cent) of Ugandans had 'unacceptable' food consumption (8 per cent poor and 21 per cent borderline), while by residence, a higher percentage of households had borderline food consumption in the rural areas (25 per cent) compared to the urban areas (16 per cent).

For instance, in Karamoja and Acholi, 86 per cent and 70 per cent of respondents respectively expressed inability to afford three meals per day for their children.

The statistics highlight Kigezi area as having the highest number of households with a poor food consumption score (34 per cent), compared to all other regions while Teso had the least proportion of households with a poor food consumption score (three per cent).

Also, three in every ten households (34 per cent) have a low dietary diversity, with the consumed food coming from fewer than five out of seven food groups (cereals/tubers, pulses/nuts, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat/fish/eggs, and oil), according to the survey released this year.

UGANDA FEEDING OUTLOOK

- 10.9m people are experiencing acute food insecurity.

- 1.6m are in crisis (meaning they are hungry).

- 40 per cent of the population don't meet the required dietary intake (2,200 kilo calories per day).

- 16 per cent of households were chronically undernourished.

- Hunger is higher among children.

- 66 per cent of school-going children do not access a meal at school.

- Among the under-five years, stunting reduced from 32 per cent in 2009/10 to 29 per cent in 2016.

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