The Federal Government has acknowledged that, inspite of the success recorded by the school feeding programme for pupils between Primary 1 and 3, there a few holes which should be plugged to ensure that the programme is run transparently and the children are well-fed.
This was pointed out by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection, Maryam Uwais.
Speaking during a diversity dialogue organised by non-governmental organization, Synergos, with the theme “Diversity Dialogue: Driving a truly inclusive Economy through Youth in Agriculture,” in Abuja yesterday, Uwais, who was one of the keynote speakers, disclosed that a menu has been drawn up to give the pupils the needed nutrients by the cooks in their schools, in order to enhance their health.
“What we do is to ask the state to link the cooks directly to the farmers. If there is an association of poultry farmers, we pay them directly from Abuja for the eggs. For this reason, the farmers reduce the price, because they don’t go to the markets anymore. They know that all of their produce would be bought off.
“As a department of the government, we always check in on them to see that they get the needed support through the N-agro programme and help them grow enough food – not organically modified – for the children to eat.”
According to Uwais, one of the things that has boosted the feeding programme, even in IDPs camps, is the agreement between the government and the international NGOs to patronize farmers directly and get the produce at reduced prices, instead of importing food for IDPs.
However, she lamented the spate of corruption which is threatening the government’s good intention.
“In good faith, though, I must say that corruption is still a challenge, because some of the children are short-changed by the cooks. We pay directly to the cooks, because we have their BVN numbers, but because of their level of know-how, they are easily threatened or deceived into buying from particular people or the supplier supplies and by the time the head teacher gives to the teacher, it is less than the number proposed and some children end up going without food.
“We want to ramp-up the information, so that people can just walk into any public primary school and return to us with valid information about the feeding programme and say “this cook is not giving the children protein.” Every meal should have protein.”
Uwais further disclosed that, in order to tackle the issue, her office is aiming to get civil society organisations involved, to act as watch dogs.
“We are trying to get civil societies involved, because this is about feeding children and we must get it right.
“We discovered in a particular state how the cooks were being shortchanged through the banks and we informed the governor. The bank’s staff found culpable were retrenched.
“We need to build the confidence of these women and the parents of the children. There all kinds of challenges, but we need the public to pitch in and help, so that we can get more information and beat the programme into shape,” she said.
Uwais further revealed that her office has instituted the cash transfer programme for indigent women.
According to her, the poorest communities in locales are scouted and identified by locals and their data taken into cognisance.
“We find out what skills they have, the number of children, what kind of business would grow in that community, the nature of road network, the nearest health delivery centre, nearest primary school, nearest financial service provider etc. This is happening in more than 21 states and I know because it is executed by my office.
“People ask me what N5000 can do here in Abuja, but, in those communities, you give people N3,500 and even less and they kneel and thank you. These little amounts make a difference in their lives and you can see that it helps to feed the children.
”Many of them live in rural areas, so they have a lot of space and focus on agriculture. Given the relationship between agriculture and nutrition, we try to address malnutrition and stunting, we demonstrate and it is amazing to learn how keen they are (to learn). We do have the food in those areas, but the women do not know how to mix them to get more nutritional value when they cook. All of these are critical for them to understand.
“For instance, we discovered in one of the states that 60 per cent of the communities we go to have no school within five kilometres. We have compiled a report and presented it to the relevant authorities. We have advised that they build schools in these communities.
The Synergos dialogue session, which brought many young people from far and wide to dialogue and reason out the positives which they expect from government in the short and long runs, aimed at using agriculture to promote unity amongst the nation’s many ethnic groups.
Synergos brings people together to solve complex problems of poverty and create opportunities for individuals and communities to thrive by strengthening communities, building partnerships and advising global leaders.
The NGO, founded by Peggy Dulaney and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has worked in tandem with the government to establish the State Partnership for Agriculture (SPA) in three pilot states – Kogi, Benue and Kaduna states.
Speaking to the press, the Country Director, Synergos, Adewale Ajadi, explained that the nation’s young people need to understand the nation’s endowment of diversity, so that that level of diversity can be used to make something better in the future.
He advised that, rather than take the nation’s diversity for granted, it should be positively deployed.
“In Synergos we work on systems, which is, basically about how people engage. So, we are getting the young people to talk about how systematically we can get to leverage on our diversity for excellence.
“This is a process; we are testing something out to see if we can have positive dialogue and get people to see and talk about what positives they can create in 2028.Eventually, they will get to a point where they will know the key ingredients that make diversity work in Nigeria. If you look at Lagos, how does it work to become the productive state in the Federation? Some people say it is because it was a federal location, but, actually, that is not what is sustaining Lagos. The answer is that Lagos is made up of people from all over the country who are trying to achieve excellence through productive engagement. There are challenges, of course, but we find space to look at solutions. So, we are creating solutions and, from that, we can begin to elaborate, engage and evolve.”
He further underlined the significance of agriculture and how much it could contribute to the different facets of the nation’s development if deftly deployed.
“Agriculture is going to be the source of Nigeria’s global excellence. Think about this; a lot of the solutions to diseases and effective nutrition, the capacity workforce in agriculture is 80 per cent women, empowering our women (who make up about 50 per cent of our population and un-utilised) will change everything, engaging our children in how we turn a natural endowment passed down to us by our ancestors is going to be very powerful.
“We are in a very powerful space – as a result of what this government is trying to do – to turn agriculture around, from what you call ‘neglected’ into a centre of excellence.
“Do you know that there are enzymes that help the production of twins in yam? There are lots of unexplored frontiers: the incredible rainforest in Nigeria is a source for curing opioid addiction in the United States. The cassava peels that we are all working on in Synergos to turn into feed for cattle…the list is endless.
“What we must not forget is that agriculture can lead to a kind of organic industrialisation that leads to finding solutions. There is a plant with potentials to power our home-made appliances without going outside. Our ancestors did incredible things, but we have been lazy; not just the government, but all of us. We have not been curious, willing and brave enough to try new things. It is possible that we can move straight to production from consumption.”
Ajadi attributed the state of the nation’s agro-sector to decades of ignoring the fact that agriculture can become the basis for what young people should look into.
“Who has ever invested in agriculture for this generation? We can’t just wake up overnight and say “we are going into agriculture.” No. Agriculture demands a certain level of leadership and imagination. When you plant a seed in the ground, you don’t know if it will deliver or survive. It takes courage to be an agriculturist. It is going to take us some time to encourage young people to be agriculturists and we must learnt to reward agriculture adequately.”
Ajadi, however, expressed hope that the nation’s fortunes in the sector would not be long in turning. He called on the media to refrain from misleading the polity and to always look at the things can go right and work together effectively.
“As for the current agricultural policies, I would not be here if I did not believe that it is helping anything. Look, the media has to confront itself. When we wanted to begin the exportation of yams, many of you got to the people to think we were taking yams away from those who wanted it. Yet, many of you have never been to Zaki Biam, to see heaps of yams going to waste, rotting. Eventually, you said the yams were rotten, which was so untrue. We produce 60 per cent of the world’s yam and produce almost all of the world’s cassava. A tuber of yam in Nigeria is, at worst, N500, but in the diaspora, in London, for example, it costs about £7. Do you know how much that is? Imagine when you export about five million tubers or more.
“Policies are the foundation on which we will build. We need to be honest with ourselves and start looking at what can go right, instead of what can go wrong, so that we can create something that is more than the sum of its parts – that is the reason for this conversation.”
Present at the dialogue were representatives of the Benue, Kaduna and Kogi state governments, as well as a number of recipients of the organisation’s programme.