The University of Johannesburg’s Food Evolution Research Lab (FERL) hosted a School Feeding Symposium on the 12th of October 2018 at the School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH).
The symposium served as a feedback session of the research conducted by the FERL team on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP). FERL has worked with the Department of Basic Education since 2015.
Dr Hema Kesa (Director: FERL) welcomed guests and provide some background and motivation behind the research.
”66 million primary school children go to school hungry. 23 million of these children are from our continent, Africa. Hunger and malnutrition continues to impair health, quality of life and survival amongst children. Effects also include low school attendance, performance and increased risk of children leaving school early, she added.”
The research conducted by FERL focused on the Volunteer Food Handlers (VFHs), specifically looking at their nutritional knowledge, hygiene and safety skills and food preparation skills. The lab also looked at the schools vegetable gardens and how they incorporated the vegetables into their menus and teachings.
The South African National School Nutrition Program (NSNP) is a government intervention program aimed at enhancing the educational experience of the needy learners. The program was introduced in 1994 for poverty alleviation, specifically initiated to uphold the rights of children to basic food and to contribute to learning in schools. It was one of the first initiatives of the first post-apartheid democratic Government of South Africa.
In response to the call by the minister of Basic Education to improve school access, learner retention and education outcomes, the NSNP was thus intended to address barriers to learning associated with hunger and malnutrition by providing nutritious meals to learners on all school days (Department of Basic Education (DBE), 2011).
The NSNP aims to enhance the learning capacity of learners through the provision of a healthy meal at schools. Where it is implemented, the programme has shown to improve punctuality, regular school attendance, concentration and the general wellbeing of participating learners.
Schools are also encouraged to establish food gardens from which they obtain fresh produce (vegetables/fruit) to supplement the menu in line with South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines. Learners, teachers & parents are provided with skills to grow their own food contributing towards long-term household food security. The gardens are also used as a teaching and learning resource and to beautify the environment.
FERL encourages research around the evolution of food: the change in eating patterns with food away from homes, the movement toward healthy eating-combatting non-communicable diseases (NCDs), movement from indigenous diets to Westernised diets with the emphasis on good health and nutrition.
The FERL established its presence through increased demand and aspirations towards enhancing the lifestyles of people across different ages and generation groups that align themselves towards nutrition, health and wellness through research studies.