Championing homegrown school feeding
What makes the Ghana homegrown School Feeding Programme special? What are the most important lessons learned? And how did you, as former vice president of Unilever, become the champion of this programme? These were some of the questions we asked Hans Eenhoorn, initiator of the Ghana School feeding Initiative (SIGN).
Q: From where did you get the idea to start a homegrown school feeding programme in Ghana?
In 2000 the General Assembly of the U.N. defined the eight Millennium Development Goals including halving hunger in the world by 2015 (MDG 1). At that time the number of people suffering from chronic or acute hunger was estimated to be 850 million. The food price crises between 2007 and 2011 increased that number with 150 million to the astonishing figure of 1 billion chronically hungry people at present. In my opinion it is morally unacceptable that in this world about one billion people live in wealth and have access to so much food, that they get sick of it (they develop cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, or forms of cancer), while at the same time another one billion people are so poor that they get sick of being chronically hungry and are physically and mentally incapacitated. It is also dangerous to neglect 1 billion poor and hungry people, as they are a source for armed conflict, terrorism, refugee streams and the spreading of HIV and TBC. And, it is economically undesirable to exclude 1 billion potential consumers and producers.
This interest in eradicating hunger did not come out of the blue. In my position in Unilever, I developed an interest in sustainable agriculture. In 2002, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan established the Hunger Task Force (HTF), and I had the honour of becoming a member, representing the food industry. In January 2005 the Hunger Task Force presented its report with 40 pragmatic recommendations to attack hunger, and one of these was the idea of Home grown School feeding. The coordinators of this task force, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan from India and Dr. Pedro Sanchez from Cuba, were important sources of inspiration for me. They took me to India and Africa and made me to see hunger. This made a deep impression on me.
“What is more fulfilling than making a real contribution to the achievement of MDG1 after a lifelong of selling ice creams?”
Q: Which strategies did the task force identify to tackle hunger?
The Hunger Task Force identified three major thrusts in the battle against hunger: First of all: increase of agricultural productivity of food insecure smallholder farmers through investing in soil health, water management, improved seed quality and education. Secondly: improve nutrition with locally produced food through community nutrition programs and “home grown” school feeding programs. Thirdly: ensure profitable market access for the poor smallholders. As Task Force we reached a clear conclusion: if we want to eradicate hunger, small farmers must be supported to increase their productivity, store their crops in an adequate manner, and market their produce. The focus on subsistence smallholders is right, because there are so many of them living in a poverty trap, needing immediate help to escape chronic hunger.
Q: Can you further explain the concept of home grown school feeding?
The idea is this. By linking local farmers to the school feeding programme a captive local market is created where they can sell their surplus food. This food will be the main ingredient for healthy midday meals for schoolchildren. It is a quick win concept to reduce hunger the next day. Schoolchildren are fed and farmers get an opportunity to market their produce. Successful implementation of “Home grown School feeding”, with initial foreign investment, should lead to increased school enrolment and retention, improved learning capabilities, better health and sustainable agro-based, economic development. After 5 to 10 years with foreign support, the local communities should produce and earn enough, to be able to feed themselves adequately on their own.
Q: You mobilised a large number of stakeholders, both in Ghana and the Netherlands. What is the importance of bringing so many stakeholders on board?
In the course of 2004, I checked with various entities in Ghana (Ghana Health Service, Dutch Embassy, WFP, UNICEF, World Vision, Unilever), whether home grown school feeding would be good for Ghana and if (financial) help from Europe would be appreciated. The response was overwhelmingly positive. In 2005, I approached in The Netherlands, parliamentarians, NGO’s, the private sector, universities, the Ghanaian diaspora, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NCDO, Schuttelaar & Partners and SNV ( Dutch Development Organisation), with the proposal to support a Dutch partnership with Ghana to make the “Home grown School feeding programme” work. We got support from the Dutch Ambassador in Ghana. He clearly saw that this programme could make a difference.
With a team of experts we wrote a plan, spending much time and effort on developing a governance structure for GSFP, with clear checks and balances ensuring that the food actually reaches the schoolchildren Governments often do not like this type of ‘control’ and therefore governance is given low importance in the design and implementation of projects. Yet it is crucial, as we experienced. We established a MOU between the Ghana Government and the Dutch Government. The Dutch commitment was to co-finance GSFP for 5 years,for the procurement of locally grown food.
We wanted to demonstrate that this integrated concept could work and that good governance would help in making the programme a success. To show this, we needed high level political support and a civil society support base, both in the Netherlands and in Ghana. If it proved successful, the concept could be rolled out, not just in Ghana but in many other African countries.
Q: And then, after a flying start, the programme ran into problems. What went wrong?
In 2007 and 2008 the GSFP met with considerable difficulties. After a successful pilot phase the Ghana Government was keen to roll out the programme to every district in Ghana. Elections were around the corner. But there was no organizational structure on the ground and there were no checks and balances. Financial irregularities were detected and the programme was abused for political purposes. The Dutch Government suspended its support and demanded remedial action by the Government of Ghana.
SIGN (the School feeding Initiative Ghana Netherlands) made efforts to improve the accountability of the GSFP. It also started a lobby-circuit in The Netherlands to convince Dutch civil society and the Government to continue its support. As a result of a lot of publicity and debate in election time (the school feeding program was one of the key issues in the presidential election of 2008), the head of the GSFP was fired and the Government of Ghana made efforts to improve the programme. A civil society platform was established in Northern Ghana with the help of SIGN, SEND and SNV (one of SIGN’s platform members), with the objective to monitor and support the GSFP. The free press in Ghana played an important role as well, as it requested the need to enhance democracy and transparency regarding the use of funds. In 2009 the Dutch Government resumed its support.
Q: Farmers were to be actively involved in GSFP as producers and suppliers of healthy, local school food. What happened on the farmer front?
This has been a problem which has not yet been resolved. The participation of local farmers in the supply of food to the schools remained far below expectation. We wanted to support small farmers by offering them a captive market but we found out that there were many reasons why this did not work well.
At present, 20% of the school food is sourced directly from local farmers. The other 80% is purchased on local markets, by caterers who are appointed by the Ghana Government. I am confident that there will be a growing involvement of farmers in the coming years.
Q: What can be learned from other countries like Brazil, which have involved farmers quite successfully in their national schoolfeeding programme?
Brazil and Chile are leading in school feeding. People from the GSFP went to Brazil to study the programme there; they were impressed but realized that contexts hugely differ.
Q: The Brazilian experience shows that it requires a strong small-scale farmers’ organization and a strong social movement to establish a robust local food value chain. In Brazil this has taken twenty years.
Indeed this will take time as small scale farmers in general are not strongly organised in Ghana. Currently there is a growing understanding among civil society and support partners that there is a need to organise and this understanding goes beyond the school feeding program.
Q: Which lessons have you learned about the role of SIGN?
A pioneering programme like this needs professional support, both in the Netherlands and in Ghana. In 2006, the School feeding Initiative Ghana-Netherlands was established as a Dutch foundation and a secretariat was set up at the Royal Institute for the Tropics in Amsterdam. The founding members were: Unilever, ASN-Bank, DSM, SNV, NCDO, Oxfam-Novib, ICCO, Cordaid, Wageningen University, Wageningen Ambassadors and Schuttelaar & Partners. SIGN became a platform for Public-Private Partnership (PPP). It coordinates contacts with Ghana and the Dutch partners, mobilizes funds and expertise, supports the GSFP secretariat and communicates about the programme. A strong and stable advisory board in the Netherlands helped SIGN in achieving results.
Gradually the need became clear for a focal point in Ghana. Since 2009 SIGN financially supports the coordinator of the civil society platform. SIGN transitioned from pure support through our platform to more advocacy because that was where our added value was. A big step forward was made in 2010 when the WFP, the World Bank and PCD (Partnership for Child Development, funded by the Gates Foundation) agreed a formal partnership with the GSFP. PCD set up a representative office in Accra, headed by the Former SIGN programme officer Daniel Mumuni.
I must say that it takes much more time than we expected to get all this organized!
Q: What results have been achieved in the past five years?
The results give reason for optimism. 0.75 million children receive a nutritious hot lunch daily, this means: more food security for the rural poor. It is expected that by the end of this year the GSFP will reach 1 million children. School enrolment, in particular for girls improved. Learning abilities are enhanced and most food is procured close to the schools on the open market. There is now sufficient experience and evaluation to roll-out the Home grown School feeding Programme in other SSA countries. Last but not least, we have established “proof of principle” that PPP’s can operate. Despite setbacks, near failure and considerable challenges yet to overcome, the positive development of the GSFP is reason to be proud of what has been achieved.
But there are some major challenges ahead. Despite quite some success, serious problems remain to be solved. The GSFP budget is not yet embedded in the Ghana Government’s annual budget and the program needs retargeting. . GSFP leadership and management are still an issue and the organisation is understaffed. The technical implementation, monitoring and evaluation have serious flaws and the local farmers are not sufficiently linked to the schools.
Q: These are big challenges indeed. How will they be addressed?
Currently the retargeting is in process and the GSFP management receives technical support in taking the correct measures. This year is a transition year. The first phase is being evaluated and a second phase, with all lessons learned, will be designed, again with the needed external technical support from several partners. Essential for future success is political stability; this will enable policy reform. Political pressure is needed to address farmers’ constraints more thoroughly. Patience is necessary to give complex programmes like this, the time to mature. Local food production for local schools is very complicated, but remains a high priority for all parties involved in GSFP. I am convinced that Home grown School feeding is an African solution for an African problem.
Q: You are optimistic about the future
Yes, we are on the right track. 2011 is the year of transition. Dutch bilateral support for the procurement will stop according to the agreement. PCD & others will continue to deliver technical support to the progamme in Ghana and other Sub Sahara African countries. SIGN is handing over its knowledge and networks to PCD and will finish its own activities in Ghana.
Q: You are the champion of Home grown School feeding in Ghana. What does it require to be a champion?
… Optimism, vision, ideals, sense of reality, a lot of time.. it is great to do this in a phase of your life when you have enough time. And you need pushing power, endurance. It helps if you have some resources so that you can be proactive and travel when you feel it is necessary, without having to wait for approval. We need more champions in the fight against hunger. There is so much work to be done. But what is more fulfilling than making a real contribution to the achievement of MDG1 after a lifelong of selling ice creams?
Hans Eenhoorn is a member of the UN Task Force on Hunger. He was Associate Professor of `Food Security and Entrepreneurship` at Wageningen University and initiator of the School Feeding Initiative SIGN, and is Former Senior Vice President of Unilever. Since 2002 he has been actively involved in the global fight against hunger. He is the initiator of the Ghana Homegrown School Feeding Programme.
 This discrepancy was the subject of a 3 year Associate Professorship of hans Eenhoorn at Wageningen University. This professorship resulted in an interesting publication: Hans Eenhoorn and Gert-Jan Becx. 2009.Constrain constraints! A study into real and perceived constraints and opportunities for the development of smallholder farmers in Sub-Sahara Africa.
 For Brazillian experience; see www.agriculturesnetwork.org/news/paa-catia-grisa