Feeding scheme at school
THE GOVERNMENT is spending more than R8billion annually on the school feeding scheme, but regardless of its intended policy of using spending to overcome the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality, this is not happening.

To this spending must be added that for feeding prisons and patients, school uniforms for learners from poor and destitute families, prison garb, and uniforms for soldiers and the police.

This spending then totals over R20billion a year, including the school feeding schemes. As the government itself says, the strategic use of this spending would create the thousands of jobs we desperately need.

Without doubt unemployment would fall from the depressing 27percent by some respectable percentage points and pave the way for further reduction as the multiplier syndrome takes root.

Thus, and specifically with regard to the school feeding programme, the situation simply blows the mind. There have been repeated media exposures which show the extent to which the school feeding scheme has been corrupted and has deteriorated in nearly every province.

No business principles

Some principals, much against supply chain processes, started their own food supply businesses. In some provinces, the service provider gets the contract but is then told who to buy from, and most of the time it is not based on business principles.

Furthermore, we have situations in which people are given six-month contracts. As if this is not enough, inputs for the meals are sourced via major wholesalers and bakeries to an extent that these now control more than 80percent of the market share.

Strangely, black economic empowerment and localisation are not on the agenda and, to crown it all, profit maximisation has become the mantra, despite the stated government objectives and the deep poverty in many communities.

The most disturbing phenomenon is that the menu does not give priority to indigenous foods with high dietary complement, for instance amadumbe (cocoyams) or mopane worms, to name two.

We have food technologists in abundance who can prove that indigenous foods are just as good and, in any case, who said white cuisine is better than black foods? Inputs are also procured from Asia and Brazil, and at some point, KwaZulu-Natal pupils had to eat chicken livers imported from Brazil. This is a crying shame, as only a few months ago, a local company, Rainbow Chicken, retrenched thousands because of the competition of imported cheap chicken from Brazil and the US.

To get to the point, the school feeding project was started with much fanfare as a nutrition solution to the millions of learners from poor homes who fail to cope in schools because they are simply hungry.

It also, as the government said, provided a great potential to develop black-owned local businesses, co-operatives and industries.

If at home children eat irostile (homemade bread in the Eastern Cape) or ujeqe (homemade bread in KZN), why not provide these at school, as this would result in countless families preparing the breads as bakeries are not in this type of manufacture? This would translate into local industries and valuable incomes for families that bake the breads.

Families could also breed chickens, thus producing eggs and meat for the children.

In Limpopo, the feeding of mopane worms at school would result in the farming of this local delicacy by local farmers.

To make an example on how the above would work and make a difference: if a service provider is given a three-year contract to feed, say, 10 schools, policy must force the provider to source locally and, secondly, ensure the food is prepared by locals.

This guarantees income to many families and, more importantly, has a multiplier effect as it creates other business activities in the vicinity.

The University of Fort Hare, realising the potential for the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape, developed a master plan that brought in Minister Gugile Nkwinti’s agriparks programme and Minister Blade Nzimande’s Technical and Vocational Training Schools projects.

This had the potential to enhance local agriculture, enterprise development, and basic manufacture and food processing in deprived localities.

It would be the ideal integrated development planning platform that is proposed for local economic development.

The truth is that the project was started and had good results but somewhere along the way something happened. Or, shall we say, human nature intervened.

Are we not prepared to confront this?

On what basis can the mooted Phakisa projects for various sectors succeed when we do not have the steel to ensure this?

Several other developing countries have used such avenues in order to deal with unemployment in their midst with much success. It is called indigenous entrepreneurship.

In some villages in India, schools must procure their food from local enterprises, which most of the time are family-owned businesses.

The experience from these countries, with China included, is that in addition to creating jobs, value chains emerged that successfully restructured previously highly concentrated economies like ours.

If our national challenge is to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality, as stated above, we must be entrepreneurial and use every opportunity, including the above, to succeed.

The bonus is that we also restructure our economy, disrupt the oligopolistic nature of our food sector and, above all, we revitalise the economies of our rural areas and townships, where the majority live.

Dr Mazwai is special adviser to the minister of small business development. He writes in his personal capacity.