Emergency school feeding to expand in rural Zimbabwe

By Kristy Allen-Shirley, C-SAFE Communications Coordinator

With the advent of the new school term in Zimbabwe, emergency school feeding is supporting the nutritional needs of thousands of vulnerable children from families struggling to cope with rising food insecurity.

USAID funded C-SAFE will be stepping up the feeding program through partners Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and CARE, targeting 354,000 children in 722 schools.

"Emergency school feeding allows us to fill a gap in the food needs of vulnerable households. Daily food requirements have been harder to meet since the cessation of general food distributions earlier in the year," says Jason Sullivan of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). "Food scarce households are surviving in the face of an absent or rapidly dwindling harvest, as well as the instability of hyper-inflation. Rural communities report that cereal is often unavailable for purchase or simply unaffordable in these areas."

The program's ration of corn-soy-blend and vegetable oil will provide one nutritious porridge meal to school children each day.

CRS is assisting 31 schools across Chegutu District, south-west of Harare. In Chegutu, Shirichena village's primary school is feeding hundreds of children aged 6 to 14 years, many of whom are orphans, or children of chronically ill parents.

A CRS Chegutu Field Coordinator explains, "Despite good rains, this year's harvest was low, and in some areas, non-existent due to a lack of inputs such as seeds and fertiliser. At the moment, people have to travel to Harare or resettled commercial farms to buy maize for their household, which currently sells for Z$20,000 (4USD) for a 20kg bag. Travel to urban areas to purchase the maize is also expensive; they are charged at a high rate for the ride as well as an additional fee for any maize they purchase."

Schools are often an insightful barometer of wider community crisis. Teachers report that since general distributions were stopped in April, the community's food security and nutritional status has deteriorated noticeably. But despite the hunger experienced in the majority of households, children are still keen to attend school. The school feeding programme has provided an added incentive for both hungry children and parents with limited capacity to produce or purchase food. At Shirichena School, attendance of enrolled children is peaking at 90% with the school feeding, as opposed to 50% before the program, when many children were too weak to walk the long distances to the classroom.

The program, which recommenced last week to coincide with the school term, has provided a welcome respite for vulnerable families, as many children spent their school holidays collecting and selling firewood to purchase maize, or simply survived on infrequent meals.

Twelve-year-old Rejoice attests to the immediate physical and mental improvement brought about by a mid-morning bowl of CSB porridge. "The porridge makes me feel full, but not like sadza (hard, maize porridge), which makes me sleepy. I have energy and participate in my class activities. My friends and I can play at lunch-time and in the afternoon, when I would normally be weak and tired, and I can concentrate on my lessons."

With the onset of the traditional "hungry season" last month, the near future could be despairing for many Zimbabwean families. Even if there are good rains for next April's harvest, many people will be battling fatigue or sickness due to nine months of mounting food insecurity, and will be unable to work the crops. CRS' Jason Sullivan states, "Given the serious situation in many communities, C-SAFE would ideally like to expand the programme to assist more vulnerable school children through-out the country. School-feeding is a practical way to deliver daily meals to a great number of children in Zimbabwe's most vulnerable communities."

The Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE) addresses the food security needs of targeted vulnerable groups in Zimbabwe using a "developmental relief" approach. C-SAFE is funded by USAID Food For Peace.

For more information, please contact:

Kristy Allen-Shirley
C-SAFE Communications Coordinator
Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency
Regional Program Unit
Johannesburg - South Africa
phone +27 (0) 11 679 3601
cell +27 (0) 72 783 3696
fax +27 (0) 11 6793597
website: www.c-safe.org