The Government of Uganda and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are distributing take-home food rations to school children in the Karamoja sub-region in north-eastern Uganda to support home-learning while schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak across the country.
The take-home food distributions began on July 6 and will run through the month, covering more than 300 schools in all Karamoja’s nine districts. Nearly 130,000 children will each receive a ration of maize, dry beans and fortified vegetable oil.
“This year, Karamoja was hit by insecurity, floods, diseases and locusts and then a lockdown that coincided with the lean season and cut off school meals, which attract children to school,” said the Minister for Karamoja Affairs John Byabagambi.
Byabagambi said these compounded elements had left a vulnerable region at an even higher risk of food shortages and malnutrition, which create an unfavourable environment for home-schooling.
School meals for children were halted in Karamoja when all schools countrywide had to close to contain the spread of COVID-19. A total lockdown that followed left many parents without jobs and coincided with livestock being quarantined because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
Even before the closure of schools and lockdown, 84 per cent of people in Karamoja were unable to access a nutritious meal regularly.
With food stocks running low, many families are forced to reduce the frequency and size of meals until the harvest season from August to December.
“However, we have some stocks of food grown within Karamoja and with these, we can provide school meals by another means and children can learn,’’ Byabagambi said.
Take-home rations, to which the Government, through the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs contributed 360 metric tons of maize, to supplement the WFP ration, will enable children to stay home and take advantage of alternative schooling guidelines introduced in May until schools can safely re-open. The government is distributing learning materials for homeschooling in vulnerable regions including Karamoja, which has very low literacy levels.
“Take-home rations are working for WFP around the world in these unprecedented times enabling us to maintain the gains we have made through decades of school feeding, including keeping girls consistently enrolled in school,” said WFP Uganda Country Director El-Khidir Daloum.
“Because of take-home rations, we believe parents will see the direct impact of food on learning and therefore will be encouraged to send their children back to school once they re-open.”
WFP has provided school meals in Karamoja since the 1980s at the request of the Government in a bid to encourage children to enrol in and finish school. WFP normally provides at least one meal a day for all school children in Karamoja. The governments of Ireland and Germany currently fund school meals.
Since 2014, the Uganda Government has been contributing cereals to school feeding with support from WFP in line with its Karamoja feeds Karamoja Project.