$1.2B school meals programme has positive impact – Baksh

Guyana’s $1.2 billion School Feeding Programme set up to alleviate hunger of poor schoolchildren in the hinterland and on the coastland has been making a positive impact on their attendance and performance, Education Minister Shaik Baksh said.

He was speaking recently at a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) prize-giving ceremony for a competition on the signing of a petition to end hunger held at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD).

Baksh disclosed that the results were unveiled in a recent study conducted by the World Bank, according to a release from the education ministry.

The minister said the government is aware of the difficulties undernourished children face in  their academic pursuits in the  classroom and he asserted that initiatives such as the School Feeding Programme, the US$6 million IFAD-funded Rural Enterprise and Development Project (READ), the US$21.9 million IDB Agricultural Export Diversification Programme, the US$20 million Agriculture Support Services Project (ASSP) and the ‘Grow More Food’ campaign represent the political will to address the problem of hunger and food security in Guyana.

The READ project aims to strengthen intermediary service providers, institutions whose services add value to production and marketing systems and improve rural welfare while the ASSP targets drainage and irrigation, farmer education, delegation of authority to Water Users Association and construction of rice seed facilities, the release said.

Baksh pointed out that the education ministry has supported the petition since it is of the view that the importance of agriculture and its role in addressing food security has to be instilled in students at all levels in the school system. This he said has to be done through several means, including the revival of school gardens.

On that score, Baksh disclosed that progress is being made and for the first time four agriculture specialists have been attached fulltime at his ministry, three of whom have been provided by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The minister also reported that the number of candidates sitting Agriculture Science at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations has been steadily increasing as well as their pass rate.

In addition, the Secondary Competency Certificate Programme (SCCP) makes provision for students who are not desirous of pursuing academic subjects to enter one of a range of technical fields, including agriculture.

He also said that the University of Guyana should be offering a Master’s programme in agriculture, as research is not only necessary to further modernize the local agriculture sector but also to produce the expertise needed to meet the demands of that sector.

Baksh also called on the populace to revive their kitchen gardens and to consume local produce while he urged farmers to produce more as the opportunity abounds for them to tap into Caricom’s US$3.5 billion annual food import bill.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Agriculture Trade Specialist Johan David lauded the schools that participated in the competition, pointing out that the youths will be the movers and shakers of agriculture and more of them have to be involved for the future of agriculture to be secured.

FAO Resident Representative Dr Lystra Fletcher Paul said the competition was part of a global programme to raise awareness of the people, some one billion of them, who suffer hunger every day.

She said the fight against hunger does not end with the petition as the next step is to do something about the issue.

Some 6,000 Guyanese joined the petition, 4,500 of whom were students, Fletcher Paul said. Several schools throughout the country that participated in the competition were presented with certificates and trophies, the release concluded.

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