By Murtland Haley
Baby steps are being made in the direction of Guyana someday having a sustainable school feeding programme. Members of government yesterday expressed their support for such a programme, but simultaneously voiced their reservations with implementing such an initiative.
All of this occurred during a Ministerial Breakfast and Policy Briefing held at the Pegasus Hotel to address the issue. The event was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
Representing government agencies were Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder, Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, Junior Minister of Public Health Dr. Karen Cummings, Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr. George Norton and Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally. The Ministries of Education and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs were also represented. Also present was the First Lady, Ms Sandra Granger.
During the discussion segment of the meeting, FAO Lead on Food and Nutrition Security, Dr. Terri Raney said that government can derive a number of benefits from a sustainable school feeding programme.
She said that school feeding by itself is a good thing, but the sustainable school feeding model has much broader benefits. Noting this, Raney said that the question for government officials to answer is whether they agree that the model has the potential to generate the kinds of benefits considered in terms of healthy eating habits, employment, support for rural dynamic communities and good interface with public policy.
According to Raney, regular school feeding programmes only focus on vulnerable students. However, with this model, she said often there is stigma attached to these programmes whereby the students are made to feel that they are less worthy.
“With the sustainable school feeding programme, it’s a universal programme. It’s grounded in the universal right to food; so all children are eligible. No child is made to feel excluded.”
She said that as it relates to content, the sustainable model is much more diverse in terms a more nutritious and appetising diet. Raney explained that sustainable models are permanent programmes fully embedded into the social protection policy of the country.
One of the benefits outlined in the presentation, is that the model will have economic spin-offs within the community the school is located.
“They (sustainable school feeding programmes) emphasise purchase from local family farmers and through this, generate both community involvement and economic activities. They are more decentralised than regular school feeding programmes and really focus on community participation and community ownership.”
It was explained that the produce to make the food can be sourced directly from farmers in these communities, thereby providing a certain and ready market to absorb the agricultural products. This would give farmers an idea of how to tailor their production activities to meet the needs of the programme as it relates to the type and amount of vegetables and fruits cultivated.
For the programme to be implemented, Raney explained to the government officials that there needs to be a strong political commitment at the highest levels in Guyana.
“That means that the President, the First Lady, the Prime Minister, the Ministers, at the very highest level we need your commitment. This is not just an education programme, it’s not just an agricultural programme, it’s not just a health programme, it really requires the full commitment of the key political leaders here.”
At this point, it was explained by the First Lady that currently she has two projects whereby remedial education is provided and the children are given meals. She said that from the onset, the communities were engaged and the needs of each community were recorded.
Food was sourced from within the communities, according to Mrs Granger. She said that the teachers and the parents are involved. She said that if the sustainable model is implemented in Guyana, it can provide farmers with a guaranteed market, and also help them to add value to their products.
Commenting on the issue also was Minister Holder, who said that the timing of the school terms in Guyana is out of sync with the farming system, which can pose a problem. He said that historically, Guyana adopted a British school system. According to Holder, this works well with the British farming system, while in Guyana, it cuts across the farming system. He said that consequently, this affects the appreciation for farming by the younger population, since children are in school when the preparatory work is being done on farms and there is school when the harvesting is ongoing.
Moreover, Minister Lawrence said that before government implements such a system, she believes that careful steps must be taken to ensure that there is a complete ‘buy-in’ to the programme by government, the opposition and other stakeholders.
She said that before the issue is taken to the National Assembly, a well-documented ‘position paper’ must be prepared, to present and debate, so that when the programme is budgeted for and passed, the programme will have the full support of the legislative arm of government.
It was agreed that two pilot projects can be done to test the model – within a hinterland community and one on the coast. This will be done so that any tweaking which is necessary to satisfy cultural practices and religious sensitivities can be addressed.
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