Nigeria Newspapers

FG in dilemma as inflation spikes meal budget to N540 billion

• Handlers sweat through N100 per meal budget for 10 million schoolchildren
• Galloping inflation quadruples N100 billion plan
• We are seeking partnership with private sector, say officials

The federal government is in a dilemma on the economics and sustainability of the noble school feeding programme in the face of galloping inflation that has made a mess of the 2024 projection and N100 billion budget for the initiative.

While still sorting out the administrative controversies and allegations of thefts, the recent economic realities have shown the N100 billion, budgeted for the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), as a far cry, and now in need of N540 billion to feed 10 million schoolchildren in 2024.

Since the N100 billion budget for school meals was passed last December, food inflation has accelerated.

Nigeria’s inflation rate is higher than average for African and sub-Saharan countries, hitting the roof at 33.69 per cent in April 2024, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The food inflation rate climaxed at 40.53 per cent (in April 2024) year-on-year, signalling an increase from 24.45 per cent in March 2023, resulting in a spike in food prices.

The Tinubu administration intends to feed 10 million schoolchildren under the school feeding initiative. If it costs N100 to feed one child per day, the government will spend N1 billion on feeding 10 million pupils. With children spending 180 days in school in a year, the government will provide N180 billion.

However, the prices of commodities have nearly tripled, suggesting that the Federal Government will need at least N540 billion to stop the youngsters’ empty stomachs from rumbling. Assuming food prices have only doubled, the Tinubu government may still have to sweat to reach N360 billion budget.

Recall that the NHGSFP is a government-led N70-per-day school feeding programme aimed at improving educational outcomes and the health of public primary school pupils.

It uses farm produce locally grown by smallholder farmers to provide children with nutritious mid-day meals every school day. The programme links local farmers to the education sector by facilitating access to the school feeding market.

Recently, the N70 per day meal was raised to N100. It is unclear how a N100 meal will fetch one pupil a nutritious meal. For instance, an egg sells for N150 (about N50 when the scheme started). With an egg-a-day projection and galloping inflation, the government might run out of cash sooner rather than later before the budget reaches the halfway line.

A recent food prices survey by The Guardian indicated that prices of commodities have more than doubled, making people worry about when the school feeding programme will be reactivated and how the scheme will be funded.

The Guardian’s recent price checks revealed that a bag of rice (50kg) that sold for N26,000 in early 2023 now costs N85,000. The price has almost quadrupled. Therefore, if the Federal Government previously paid N100 million for bags of rice, to do so this year will require four times that amount. For garri (50kg), it was N18,000 in 2023 and now sells for N45,000; yam tuber that previously sold for N450 last year will cost twice the price to buy now, and beans sold for N28,000 in 2023, currently sells for N75,000 per bag.

There are other food items inflation tore through, including noodles (N6,000 in 2023, now N10,000 in 2024), spaghetti (N17,000 in 2023, now N28,000), Semovita (N6,000 per 10kg in 2023, costs N19,800), Chicken (N2,000 per kg in 2023, now N6,200), Titus fish (N2,200 per kg in 2023, sells for N5,500 in 2024), and Turkey sold N2,600 last year, now costs N7,200.

Inflation has also eaten deep into pepper prices (scotch bonnet pepper: N5,500 in 2023, now N22,000; tomato jumped from N36,000 to N58,000).

In other words, with inflation galloping unabated, the government will likely need more than double the N100 billion it budgeted for the school feeding programme.

Since the government complains of a cash crunch and struggles to stabilise the depreciating value of the naira, it may have to look beyond its purse.

In February, the government announced that it sought a public-private partnership (PPP) to address funding gaps in the school feeding programme.

Yetunde Adeniji, the senior special assistant to the president on school feeding, said the PPP provided an opportunity for governments, private entities, and other stakeholders to pool resources and create sustainable funding models for school feeding programmes.

“Together, we aim to chart a clear path towards securing financial support, ensuring accountability, and improving the quality and reach of these vital programmes across Africa.”

“Let us commit ourselves to finding practical solutions that will improve the lives of millions of children in Africa, ensuring they receive the nutrition they need to thrive and providing them with a strong foundation for their future,” Adeniji said.

She further said that the programme was an essential part of everyday children.
“The president said we would feed 10 million children. We are working with the data. We have development partners who have been instrumental in gathering information,” added Adeniji.

The scheme was stopped in the wake of corruption allegations against the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu (who was suspended on January 8, 2024) and others. The now-suspended minister had come under criticism for ordering the transfer of N585.2 million into the private bank account of a civil servant, the accountant in charge of grants for vulnerable Nigerians.

In 2004, the Nigerian government piloted the implementation of the school feeding programme, beginning with 12 states selected from the six geopolitical zones.

The current school meals project started in 2016, and according to the government, over 300 million meals have been served to more than 7.5 million pupils in 46,000 public primary schools in 22 states.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that the overarching intent of the Nigeria Home Grown School Feeding Strategic Plan 2016-2020 “is to articulate the strategy and vision” of the Federal Government for a countrywide universal HGSF programme.

The scheme aims to deliver a “government-led, cost-effective school feeding programme with a specific focus on the development of smallholder farmers and local procurement to spur growth in the local economy”.

While focussed on providing food to children, the FAO explained that the initiative would indirectly help in improving food security in the beneficiary households.

A nutritionist, Jadesola Adekile, said the main objective of the scheme is to increase enrolment of primary schoolchildren and reduce the current dropout rates from primary school, which is estimated at 30 per cent;  addressing the poor nutrition and health status of many children, thereby improving learning outcomes and linking the programme to local agricultural production has direct economic benefits and can potentially benefit the entire community as well as the children to stimulate local agricultural production and boost the income of farmers, by creating a viable and ready market via the school feeding programme.

She added that the programme helped create jobs and improve the family and state economy along a value chain that provides a multiplier effect for economic growth and development.

On his part, a parent, Johnson Adeniran, said considering the current economic realities, the government must be intentional about the school feeding programme and ensure that no child is left out.

He advised the government to partner with corporate organisations in funding the scheme so that it can reach as many pupils as possible.
A teacher, Sophia Emmanuel, said the government must find a way to ensure the programme returns to capture all the out-of-school children.