A miserable M3.50 to feed a child in Lesotho schools

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…poverty-stricken households still pin hopes on school feeding for their children to access nutritious meals

By Lineo Ramatlapeng

For little Tlotliso Taunyane* aged 6, arriving early at his primary school is not just about waking up with the hunger to be educated but it is more about filling his empty growling stomach and intestines.

Taunyane is not alone in this predicament, he among many children across Lesotho who rush to school to have soft porridge that makes their first meal of the day on an early Monday morning after a  long weekend without food.

Not only do these youngsters have to walk long distances, climb up and down hills and or mountains to get to school, or even cross a river at times, but they do so on an empty stomach often owing to the hunger ravaging through the country’s communities.

Now, with Covid-19 having taken away jobs and the economy reeling from the impact of the pandemic as inoculations of populations gives a rear of hope, the rural poor never stopped battling hunger.

Some have even said they are forced by circumstances to eat just once a day to keep alive and be able to fend for themselves the next day.

But, for Taunyane, his father was last seen in the early weeks of January 2021 leaving for South Africa to seek a job after having come home for the Christmas vacation with no clear indication whether he would be returning to his old job or not.

While he is gone, his mother moves from one odd job to the next trying to make living for her three children. The pay is scanty and the jobs are hard to come by but she perseveres.

The re-opening of schools came as a blessing as it meant there would be an easier meant to feed her youngest boy child through the food rations that schools offer through the ministry of education and training sponsored school feeding program.

But the school feeding program that Mrs. Taunyane pins her hopes on does not offer her child much but just M3.50 per meal per day.

The school feeding program has since 2005 been offering each child M3.50 per day to be fed by private caterers who in turn use the opportunity for their enrolment into the scheme to change their lives and start small businesses.

Thanks to the World Food Program and many like-minded school feeding programs many of the children like Taunyane receive their first meal at school as con-soya or a super cereal-plus meal that provides nutrients to the child.

The meal is according to the WFP intended to help promote the children’s growth and reduce the risks of stunting and malnutrition.

Amid the positive impact that the school feeding program has on children from destitute families, much needs to be done by the Ministry of Education and training to improve the school feeding program.

While addressing questions in the National Assembly of Lesotho, Education and Training Minister Ntlhoi Motsamai said her ministry is working on adjusting the M3.50 per child per day to a reasonable amount.

Motsamai admitted that the ministry is aware that M3.50 per child paid to the caterer is too little.

She, therefore, said her ministry has made a request for an increase, however owing to the shaky economic outlook of the country her request will take time before being approved.

The M3.50, Motsamai conceded that it has been paid since 2005 and the costs for feeding pupils have increased substantially.

She further said the school feeding program is designed in a manner that is supposed to change the lively hoods of the members of communities engaged as caterers, but since the pay of M3.50 in 2005, caterers have not been able to make a profit.

Motsamai said payments currently go as follows: “pupils from 1-100, a caterer gets M1, 500 monthly, for 101-150  pupils the caterer receives M1,800, for 151-200 pupils a caterer is paid M2,400, for 201-250 pupils a caterer earns M3,000, for 251-300 pupils,  a caterer gets M3,600, for 301-350 pupils, a caterer earns M4,200 and for 351-400 pupils a caterer receives M4,800”.

Motsamai said this program that ensures that children receive at least a meal a day is currently overseen by a consultant company –TJ General Dealer–on behalf of the ministry that pays all caterers. She further said the caterers do the country a paramount job of ensuring that a child has a nutritious meal a day.

*Tlotliso Taunyane is not his real name.