Abeokuta, Nigeria – Dozens of children cheer at the Baptist Nursery and Primary School compound in Bode-Ijaiye suburb of Abeokuta city, the capital of Ogun state, as their friends try to outpace each other on a 100-metre dash in a dusty field.
Ogun state inter-school football and track-and-field competitions are just around the corner, and teachers want to prepare the children physically and mentally for the task ahead.
Away from the laughter and shouts of encouragement on the field, four female cooks with aprons on top of traditional indigo-dyed adire gowns ladle porridge mixed with vegetables and fish into hundreds of stainless steel bowls with lids.
“I want to say a big thank you to the federal government of Nigeria and the Ogun state government for providing food for us,” 10-year-old Ramon Samuel told Al Jazeera before opening the lid on his bowl.
Samuel and his classmates receive free meals every school day thanks to a national programme, which aims to provide nutritious meals to young schoolchildren in order to increase enrolment, help them stay in school, and reduce malnutrition, particularly among children from low-income families.
The Home Grown School Feeding initiative, a movement launched in 2003, is driven by national governments to improve the lives of schoolchildren and farmers alike. It is practised across the continent, including in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Ethiopia, Namibia, Botswana, Ivory Coast, and South Africa.
The concept is not confined just to the continent as Brazil, Japan, and Italy have similar programmes aimed at keeping children fed while promoting local agriculture.]
Though the scheme began in December 2016 in Nigeria, it is not entirely new here. Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo launched a pilot programme in 13 states in September 2005, but after a few years, only southwestern Osun state maintained it.
The plan was reintroduced by President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2016 as part of his administration’s multi-million dollar National Social Investment Programmes to address poverty, hunger and unemployment in Nigeria.
The school programme operates in 20 out of Nigeria’s 36 states and has fed nearly seven million pupils in about 40,000 public schools, the programme’s manager Abimbola Adesanmi told Al Jazeera. She said more than 68,800 jobs have also been created through the initiative.