By Luise Shikongo in Namibia


Learners harvesting spinach at the Stampriet School-Based Food System Project as part of home-grown school feeding programme. © WFP/Claudia Altorio

The Namibia School Feeding Programme has demonstrated extraordinary resilience since its establishment in 1991, only a year after the country gained its independence.


As early as in 1996, the government, through the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, took over full responsibility to implement the programme. This followed a strong partnership with the World Food programme, which from 1991 had worked to strengthen government’s capacity to independently implement the programme.


Over the years, the programme has rapidly expanded to reach over 78,000 children in 1996; 330,000 in 2015; and currently 466, 860 children in over 1, 514 schools in all 14 regions of the country.


The government has sustained its investment in school meals because of its results: tangible improvements in education, which include an increase in enrolment and retention of learners, especially girls, and the impact of meals on the health and learning capacity of vulnerable children.


As the programme evolved, the government also realised that a more holistic approach that is more inclusive of various stakeholders would further improve quality of the programme and benefits.


This thinking led to the recent rolling out of a homegrown school feeding pilot, in 29 schools located in seven regions, while running the national school feeding programme in all 14 regions. Namibia’s Ministry of Education is leading a “Value for Money” study in partnership with Harvard University and WFP. The goal is to enable assessment of the comprehensive sectoral cost and benefits of school meal programmes to support strengthening effectiveness of the national school feeding programme, and the homegrown school feeding programme models.


With indications that the homegrown school meals model offers more benefits, a plan is in motion to fully adopt the pilot model and scale it up across the country.


Namibia’s ambitious plan will see the government expanding provision of school meals to other groups of children currently left out, including children in early child development centres and secondary day schools. According to Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Anna Nghipondoka, the government wants to fully tap into the benefits of the homegrown school feeding model.


The potential to boost the rural economy and the model’s impact on the country’s food systems and climate action have made homegrown school feeding more attractive and in line with the government’s development agenda.


Through the homegrown model, the government has identified ways to promote production of nutritious food in school gardens using agricultural methods and techniques to mitigate the effects of severe climatic conditions.


“Although Namibia is an arid country that often experiences severe droughts, we would like to promote school gardens to boost the nutritional value of our school meals. However, these gardens require water. We have installed drip irrigation systems and provided greenhouses to create conducive conditions for schools to sustain food production,” says Minister Nghipondoka.


The government is also promoting regenerative agricultural practices, encouraging schools to use organic manure to further improve the quality of soil and produce. “We are devising innovative ways to grow food and maximizing our strategy to go organic and provide planet-friendly school meals,” says Minister Nghipondoka.


The pilot has proved that its benefits go beyond school meals. “We are making sure that we do not deliver the programme alone, but collaborate with the local communities, smallholder farmers especially, and other players. This will go a long way to grow the rural economy and make sure everyone benefits. Through the school gardens, we are influencing local communities to also learn and adopt the practices and techniques we are promoting. That way, they will be able to supply the quality of ingredients we are looking for to provide planet-friendly school meals.”


Minister Nghipondoka says the notion of “planet-friendly school meals” has also become a source of inspiration to smallholder farmers who are excited to adopt new ways of growing food applied in school gardens to support the government’s vision. In many areas, school gardens have become centres for learning where local communities, particularly women smallholder farmers, are acquiring knowledge and skills they can use to improve their lives and contribute to the government’s efforts in strengthening the homegrown school feeding programme.


“Without the smallholder farmers, we cannot guarantee fresh supplies in schools. They are our important partners.”


These partnerships, she says, are also contributing to efforts to accelerate food systems transformation. “As we put some money in their hands, the farmers are economically empowered, they can produce diverse vegetable varieties, and can start thinking about getting involved in value addition,” says Minister Nghipondoka


Dr. George Fedha, WFP’s Country Director and Representative in Namibia applauded the government for promoting the homegrown school feeding model. “Acting as safety nets, home-grown school feeding can contribute not only to create food access for vulnerable school-aged children; but also, generate income and strengthen human capital development pathways and food systems. Because of this connection, home-growing the food supply has the potential to multiply the effects of school feeding to local economies.”


The homegrown school feeding model, he adds, provides opportunities for catalytic and green growth by making schools centres for economic productivity and climate action. “Importantly, as we are seeing in Namibia, learners are participating first hand in advancing food systems and tackling climate change.”


Namibia joined the School Meals Coalition in 2021 and is using it to share best practices, learn from other countries and showcase its innovation and partnerships with smallholder farmers to provide learners planet-friendly meals against all heavy odds.