BY: Mpofu Sthandile.
For many South African learners, the conclusion of the academic year heralds the start of much-anticipated school holidays, with many looking forward to a well-deserved rest and spending the festive season with family and friends.
But for many others, the closure of academic institutions for the annual December holidays ushers in a period of food insecurity and chronic hunger, as many learners from poor households rely on school nutrition programmes as the source of their only guaranteed and nutritious meal of the day.
Government’s National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), under the Department of Basic Education (DBE), provides a critical lifeline for many of South Africa’s vulnerable learners during the year. Currently, more than nine million learners rely on the NSNP, assisted by private sector partnerships such as the Tiger Brands Foundation’s (TBF) in-school Breakfast Programme, for regular nutrition.
However, the annual school closure at the end of the year means that this support network becomes unavailable, leaving most learners from poor households to wonder where their next meal will come from, resulting in many going to bed hungry.
Millions going hungry
According to TBF Operations Manager Karl Muller, chronic hunger and food insecurity remain major challenges in South Africa, with an estimated 30 million people – some 30% of the country’s population – going to sleep hungry every night and 30 million running out of money every month, leaving them food vulnerable.
“The Children’s Institute’s 2020 South African Child Gauge report reveals that one in four children under the age of five is stunted, which is a sign of chronic undernutrition. Unfortunately, these numbers have remained unchanged for 20 years,” he says.
“Hunger and obesity are two forms of malnutrition that often go together. This double burden of malnutrition creates unprecedented challenges for governments and civil society organisations tasked with running nutritional programmes to assist the most vulnerable communities.”
Muller notes that there is little to suggest that any significant improvement in terms of food and nutrition security of children living in South Africa has been achieved over the past two decades. Evidence suggests that the situation is at best stagnant and could well be getting worse.
Tough economic conditions
The plight of poor households is further being exacerbated by the rising costs of staple foods, with the prices of items such as milk, bread and maize continuously climbing amid difficult economic conditions, increasing inflation and high interest rates.
Therefore, says Muller, exploring ways to maintain good nutritional choices over the holiday period is crucial to mitigate the impact of hunger, with additional interventions required to ensure that learners have access to regular meals when schools close over the December-January period.
“Nutritious food should be the order of the day, which is why Tiger Brands Foundation annually distributes hampers during the December holiday period to help maintain the nutrition of learners in some of its beneficiary schools,” he says.
This year, TBF will distribute more than 57 tonnes of food, in the form of over 5 700 food hampers to learners across all nine provinces. Each hamper contains a little over 10kg of food items, including maize meal, flour, sugar, milk powder, cooking oil, oats, samp and baked beans, among others.
More than just breakfast
The bulk of these will be distributed in Gauteng, where 1 963 beneficiaries will receive hampers, followed by Limpopo with 696, the Free State with 570 and the Eastern Cape with 571, while 502 will be distributed in Mpumalanga, 425 in the Northern Cape, 389 in the Western Cape, 333 in the North West and 263 in KwaZulu-Natal.
Muller notes that the food hampers being distributed by the Foundation to learners and their families across South Africa include far more than the usual breakfast that is served as part of TBF’s in-school nutrition Programme.
In fact, these hampers contain enough food to feed a family.
“The distribution of hampers is a temporary measure to assist our most vulnerable learners and families to have ongoing access to nutritious food during the holiday period. Our normal in-school Breakfast Programme will resume as soon as schools reopen at the start of the new academic year,” he says.
The TBF’s in-school Breakfast Programme now reaches 96 schools across all nine provinces in South Africa and feeds over 74 596 learners per day. In December last year, the Foundation celebrated serving its 100th million in-school meal since the Programme’s inception in 2011.
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