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COVID-19 and School Feeding

The Malawian Case within the Project “Nutrition and Access to Primary Education”

How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect development cooperation projects and the livelihoods of target communities? SLE- participant Lara Sander takes a look at the impact of the pandemic on a Malawian school feeding project.

In Malawi, the project “Nutrition and Access to Primary Education” (NAPE), implemented by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), addresses food and nutrition insecurity among primary school students and its negative impact on school attendance. 37 % of Malawian children aged under five suffer from chronic malnutrition. 42 % of them are vitamin A deficient and 25 % are anemic. Under those circumstances, pupils have difficulties to attend class regularly, yet alone to perform well. As a result, Malawi’s school drop-out rate is high.

Since 2016, NAPE has supported 150 primary schools and Early Childhood Development Centres in 10 districts, benefitting around 110,000 pupils in 2019. Facilitating the implementation of Malawi’s “National School Health and Nutrition Strategic Plan”, the project empowers schools and communities to provide nutritious school meals. As a Home-Grown School Meals approach, communities (households, teachers and school committees) are responsible for crop production and school meal preparation. At the same time, promoting nutrition knowledge plays an important role.

COVID-19 officially reached Malawi on April 2nd, 2020, disrupting daily procedures of NAPE. Trainings and activities with project partners such as workshops had to be postponed. At the same time, unstable internet connectivity hampers the increased need for digital coordination and communication.

The country-wide closure of schools on March 23rd also put a stop to the provision of school meals. As a result, Malawian primary school pupils lack both food and education.

While the country-wide school closures have had a negative impact on pupil’s nutrition status and education, COVID-19 measures within the NAPE project have huge potential for a positive long-term impact on the target group. The expansion of the WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) project component is a case in point. When schools reopen, the availability of WASH services will be crucial to protect communities from COVID-19. At the same time, an extended WASH- infrastructure will also help fight other widespread diseases such as diarrhea and cholera, potentially decreasing pupil’s sickness absence.

When looking at NAPE’s Home-Grown School Meal approach in the context of COVID-19, several questions arise: can it serve as an entry point to secure the provision of a meal or snack per day while schools are closed? Is there any potential to support the school community in times of disrupted food supply? Can the pandemic be seen as catalyst for local food systems, in this case ‘school-community-food-systems'?

From a more general perspective, it is important to reflect on the way development cooperation organisations and local governments are handling the pandemic. Do policy responses to COVID-19 fit into local contexts? Do they increase resilience against the COVID-19 pandemic - or rather undermine daily livelihood strategies? Do we recognise and develop entry points – or rather externally impose new measures? What does the COVID-19 pandemic tell us about the functioning of a system or project in a long-term perspective, in this case, the functioning of a school community and its involvement in the school feeding project?


 Lara Sander


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©GIZ 2018