Six thousand school children in Kasungu and Lilongwe districts will soon—starting September 2023—eat nutrient-dense biofortified school meals thanks to the Nutritious School Meals for Malawi project.
HarvestPlus and Nascent Solutions are collaborating to overcome the ongoing challenge of poor diets in the country, especially in rural areas where parents find it challenging to secure enough nutritious and affordable food for their children. Inadequate nutrition weakens children’s immunity and development and increases their risk of illness and death from common childhood diseases.
The project, funded by the Waterloo Foundation, is promoting the production and consumption of biofortified vitamin A maize and iron beans through farmer clubs where both schools and communities are supported with nutrient-enriched seeds and inputs to plant a one-acre piece of land. Farmer clubs are a well-established structure in place to promote agriculture productivity in communities. Twenty schools and 9,000 households belonging to 300 farmer clubs have been empowered to produce home-grown biofortified crops and market their surplus to off-takers.
School children, schools, and farmer clubs have benefitted from the impactful agronomic training delivered through the project. Resulting yields of three metric tonnes (MT) of vitamin A maize per hectare are well above the national average of 2.2 MT per hectare. Each school will aggregate over 4,500 kilograms of vitamin A maize, enough to feed 500 pupils for a full academic year.
Participating farmer clubs are mandated to give back twenty percent of their produce to participating community schools, as payment for the seed received—an example of how resource-poor farmers can be creatively supported to pay back. The rest of the produce is consumed for improved household nutrition.
“Communities have a critical role to play in the sustainability of school feeding programs. We have embraced this initiative and hope to continue supporting the home-grown school feeding program by supplying the biofortified crops to schools,” said Mr. Gidumu, chairman of Baiskolo club.
Children eating the nutrient-enriched school meals expressed excitement about the appearance, taste, aroma, and nutritive value of the foods prepared with vitamin A maize flour.
HarvestPlus continues to provide technical assistance to farmers, teachers, and school children through training in good agricultural practices, nutrition education, market linkages, and management, including socio-economic topics deemed critical to supporting school feeding programs. Market linkages have been created where potential off-takers were identified to purchase the excess produce.
The long-term vision of the Nutritious School Meals for Malawi project is to increase access to high quality nutritious foods for school children, especially girls, and their households, to ensure improved nutritional and health status, schooling outcomes, and economic opportunities.