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School children in northern Uganda to lose meals

Around 100,000 children in the Karamoja region of northern Uganda look set to lose their school meals for a large part of this year.

With a funding gap of over 5 million dollars in its budget for 2013, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has said it will not be able to carry out school feeding programmes for several months.

The scale-back follows the general direction of reduced assistance in the area.  The WFP has been providing food supplies to Karamoja for four decades and the region became completely dependent on food aid. As part of a strategy to change this dependence, the WFP is now only giving food to the most vlunerable households, numbering around 150,000 (down from 1 million in 2009). The main focus of assistance today is on cash or voucher-based food schemes, which aim to boost employment and promote improvements to the region’s local industries, particularly the agricultural sector.

Speaking to IRIN, an education consultant in Uganda commented that support was needed to help people in Karamoja grow their own harvests instead of “depending on relief food and donations”. The consultant added that it was the right decision to concentrate on “small and large-scale agriculture...[which] will enable people to grow enough food for themselves and provide school meals for their children”.

However, education officials admit that the inability of schools to offer free meals is likely to affect attendance in a region where nearly one in ten people are already illiterate. The Education and Sports Minister told IRIN that the government expected some children to drop out of school completely and that a lack of meals would affect “enrolment, quality, standards and performance”.

One local non-governmental agency working in Africa believes that one way for schools to offer feeding programmes is to set up garden ‘farms’ in their grounds or nearby. These not only provide a source of food but can also be used for training in agronomy, where youngsters and people in the local community can learn about the latest sustainable farming methods. Officials in the local government of Karamoja say they have already begun working on this idea, by identifying land which could be used for school plots.

But it could take some time for locals to change their agricultural practices, especially since many households in this drought-prone region have long relied on traditional farming methods such as pastoralism. Therefore, without the safety net of free school meals, it’s likely that many children from poor and vulnerable families in this part of Uganda will go hungry in 2013.

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