Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Learners in many government schools across the country are going without meals over the skyrocketing food prices.
The prevailing high cost of food has compelled school administrators to adjust their menus and regular feeding schedules such that they can operate within the available limited budgets.
The prices of beans, maize flour, and rice which the schools largely rely on for students’ meals range between 4,000 and 6,000 shillings per kilogram.
Francis Nsubuga Ssematimba, the Headteacher of St Maria Goretti Mpugwe in Masaka City, says they are currently struggling to regularly feed the learners because they can’t afford the current market price of food.
According to Ssematimba, at the closure of the last term, they had anticipated asking parents to make additional financial contributions to the learners’ feeding, but the idea was frustrated by the government’s instruction against increasing school fees.
Ssematimba who also doubles as the Uganda National Teachers Union Chairperson for Masaka indicates that their budgets are currently overstretched, hence prompting them to withdraw some of the meals in their usual program such that they can keep running despite the negative consequences on the learning capacity.
Instead of a cup of porridge at break time, the learners are being served tea and porridge to substitute for posho and beans that would be served for lunch.
Walter Nyeko, the Head Teacher of St Joseph’s College Layibi in Gulu City foresee a situation where schools will have to close prematurely because they cannot afford to keep students for the whole term given the rising food prices.
He bemoans that amidst reluctance by the parents to fully settle their obligation of supporting their children’s education, the school is struggling to provide for the learners as required.
“It’s very hard to handle the situation at the moment; we have maintained the food ration because we don’t want to see them stage a strike. The parents are however not helping us because they are also facing the same challenge, they haven’t paid for fees,” Nyeko indicated in an interview.
On an average, the school would purchase 15,000 kilograms of both maize and beans per term, but Nyeko says with the price increment, they now need to increase the ratio to 16.8 tons of maize grains and beans if they are to sustain the school.
Santo Opira, the Headteacher of Unifat Nursery and Primary School also in Gulu, says they have now entrusted the responsibility of purchasing the food to the parents, such that they bear the burden amid the unstable prices of food.
Parents are now required to furnish the school with 10 kilograms of beans, 5 kilograms of rice, and 15 maize flour for each of the children in the school.
Peter Ojok, the teacher in charge of welfare at Bishop Angelo Tarantino Memorial secondary school in Arua city says they are also gradually reducing the food portions they are serving the students such as the available stock to stay for a long time.
Samson Adrabo, the Headteacher of Golden Treasure Nursery and Primary school in Arua city indicates that as a remedy, they have reduced their daily quantity of food to serve the same student population.
In Karamoja, Everest Biko the Head of Schools Feeding Program at the World Food Program-WFP explains that the souring food prices have put them under considerable strain, prompting fears that the ratio of food supplied to schools may reduce.
WFP provides food to all primary and secondary schools in the Karamoja sub-region, reaching more than 100,000 children each year with at least one meal a day and a mid-morning snack or lunch, as an inducement to encourage children to enroll and finish their studies.
According to Biko the situation was brought about by the prolonged drought which affected food production in the greenbelts that usually, coupled with the current insecurity that frustrated the cultivation of crops.
Biko observed that the rapid increase in food prices is shocking and has affected their budget since the resources are not enough to sustain the program.
The government is mooting for a compulsory milk feeding programs in schools to enable learners to get the food nutrients required for their growth and brain development.