Programmes that aim to look after the nutritional wellbeing of learners as their core mandate have a far-reaching and significant impact that goes beyond just filling empty stomachs. One such programme is the Tiger Brands Foundation’s (TBF) in-school breakfast programme. Now in its sixth year, the programme recently served the 50-millionth meal.
The programme is a key social investment in South Africa’s future. By reducing short-term hunger, it helps to ensure sustainable and positive social and economic returns for South African communities in the future. Each and every school day, TBF feeds about 64 000 learners at 92 schools across all nine provinces in South Africa. Breakfasts are only served at schools that receive lunch through the Department of Basic Education’s National School Nutrition Programme. This approach has received widespread support from educators and principals, who have developed a sense of ownership and investment in the programme.
The communities in which the programme operates are mostly situated in small towns plagued with socio-economic challenges related to employment, health and poverty, to name just a few. These programmes have been found to play an important role in breaking the intergenerational cycle of child vulnerability caused by poverty and income inequality.
The TBF in-school breakfast programme has already brought about significant, positive and measurable change in the communities it serves, affecting a range of stakeholders. These include learners, educators, parents, food handlers, vendors, school districts and surrounding communities.
Learners, who are at the core of the Tiger Brands Foundation’s existence, benefit the most from the programme on several levels, including cognitive performance, health and wellbeing, and social behaviour. Studies by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) have shown many positive outcomes related to this breakfast programme, particularly in the reduction of number of overweight children, absenteeism, dropouts, illness and malnutrition.
Eating breakfast every school day has had significant impact on learners’ mental and physical health. Most noteworthy is academic performance, which has improved significantly thanks to increased concentration, increased enrolment numbers, and growth in the levels of engagement during class.
Learners at TBF beneficiary schools are given a hot, nutritious breakfast first thing in the morning when they arrive at school. The products they are served include Morvite, Jungle Oats, Ace Instant Porridge, and Mabele, which were chosen based on the ideal nutritional requirements for learners in grades 1–7. The product variation ensures that children are exposed to different tastes and can enjoy their breakfast while getting the vitamins and minerals they need to develop and function effectively.
The beneficiaries’ behaviour has also shown to be different outside of the classroom, with learners now more involved in sports. Law enforcement authorities in one community we operate, have reported a drop in the amount of time spent monitoring the city’s rubbish dumps because learners are receiving a breakfast in school and as a result policing resources become more available.
For educators, schools, communities and the families of learners in the programme, the trickledown effects are also notable.
Parents and guardians are more at ease knowing their young ones’ nutritional needs are being looked after at school. Educators have seen an improvement in learner performance and punctuality, as well as a reduction in absenteeism. These factors also have a positive impact on the school district’s performance and reputation, leading to increased enrolment.
The surrounding communities benefit in two ways from the TBF in-school breakfast programme: job creation and income generation. Parents are able to work in the breakfast programme as food handlers, for which they receive a stipend.
Although the effects of in-school nutrition programmes are not always immediate, numerous studies have shown them to be highly beneficial in the medium to long term. Interventions such as the Tiger Brands Foundation’s in-school breakfast programme look set to continue improving learner food security, reducing short-term hunger, managing cognitive delays associated with malnutrition, reduce obesity, and potentially impact on stunting for thousands of young South Africans.
Eugene Absolom is the Director of the Tiger Brands Foundation