Sunday, October 17, 2021

New schools’ menu adopted without nod to PSDP recommendations

On the face of it, the introduction of vegetables, fruits and eggs to the menu of primary school students sounds like a really good thing. The fact of the matter though is that recommendations that were made by European Union consultants under the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP) are not themselves being introduced to the new feeding scheme.

The consultants have developed a horticulture value chain analysis action plan which states that part of Botswana’s obesity problem is a direct result of people not eating adequate amounts of fresh produce. The plan says that in line with a regional trend, the consumption rate of fresh fruit and vegetable (FF&V) among Batswana households is very low.

“Almost 97 percent of the population does not consume the recommended minimum of five fruits or vegetables per day. On average, one serving of vegetables and 0.3 servings of fruits are consumed daily. These rates are low even compared with other countries in the region. Low FF&V consumption contributes to the population’s increased propensity to obesity and to illnesses such as diabetes,” it adds.

Last month, the government announced that FF&V and eggs will be added to the menu of government primary schools. However, not just any fruit and vegetable is good enough to yield the desired health benefits. Without being precise, a savingram from the Director of Local Government Finance and Procurement services in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development directs senior local government officers to “use the agricultural produce guidelines to do procurement as is the norm.” The fact of the matter is that while the Botswana Bureau of Standards has produced voluntary standards for grading FF&V, these are generally not adopted. Some retailers and wholesalers implement their own independent quality standards which are agreed bilaterally with producers. The PSDP plan says that retailers do not differentiate FF&V by quality at the point of sale. The result has been competition based mainly on price and few incentives to invest in upgrading production quality. This is the environment in which the new feeding scheme is introduced.

To deal with this situation, the PSDP plan recommends the adoption of compulsory quality standards in the horticulture sector which should be able to generate considerable value in the FF&V value chain.

“In addition to significantly improving the perception of Botswana FF&V among local consumers, it will enable price differentiation. Achieving higher price for quality produce will provide incentives for farmers to invest in better farming practices. Overall production volumes and farm viability will increase,” it says.

Another point that the plan raises is that of price difference between regions. Gaborone is generally cheaper for all horticultural products other than tomatoes, where it is the most expensive and Kanye’s FF&V prices are generally the lowest. Gantsi and Francistown prices are comparable, although the former is more expensive in some price points.

Entrepreneurs across the country would be scrambling into action to take advantage of the new set of bountiful business opportunities of a market that is essentially unregulated. Unfortunately, this development will come hand in glove with more opportunities for the sort of corruption that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime is likelier to investigate vigorously.

This will be another instance of recommendations of a consultancy on which a lot of money has been wastefully spent being ignored. It is also likely that decision-makers at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, which is responsible for the school feeding programme, have not seen the PSDP report.

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