Caterers’ strike in Ghana: Millions of schoolchildren without lunch

Status: 06/22/2022 11:47 a.m

Caterers in Ghana have not been delivering food to schools for weeks – the background is the increased food prices. That’s why millions of students go to school hungry – or stay at home.

By Stefan Ehlert, ARD Studio Rabat

It’s lunchtime at Aboabo’s primary school in Kumasi, Ghana. Normally the children would now queue for the school lunch. Everyone gets a meal from the state – for free. But that hasn’t been the case for a few weeks. The caterers are on strike, demanding more money from the state.

The consequences are difficult for many children to bear, such as eight-year-old Jospeh Annan. The boy says he hasn’t eaten since breakfast, he’s hungry. But you don’t learn well on an empty stomach, says elementary school teacher Eric Appiah. “The strike has made our work more difficult. Most children cannot concentrate well because they are hungry. Some don’t even come to school anymore.”

“The state must do something”

The mother of nine-year-old Kande Hassan says that the school lunch is no longer an important incentive to go to class. Her daughter is now selling fruit instead of learning to read and write. “The free lunch was so important to us, we can’t afford it.” Since the strike began, her daughter has always been hungry at school. “That’s why we decided that she should stay at home.”

But what does she get fed up with at home? Ghanaian child rights activist Ishak Mohammed Newton fears more children will be forced into labour. Girls are at risk of being married off at a particularly young age if they become a burden to their families because they can no longer eat at school.

“This causes a high absenteeism rate. This leads to girls dropping out of school,” explains Newton. “In the country, that means they get married early. The state has to do something.”

Higher pay required

Around four million children in 10,000 schools were recently able to enjoy school meals. But with a record inflation of 24 percent for groceries, the food suppliers ran out of breath. They also say that the government still owes them the equivalent of almost 30 million euros from before the war in Ukraine.

The aftermath of the war has made the situation for caterers completely untenable, says Helena Appiah, secretary-general of the School Caterers’ Association. She calls for an increase in funding. The government should pay the equivalent of around 40 euro cents for each individual school meal.

“Every transport now costs more, gas is expensive, everything is expensive. We can’t cook a meal for 11 cents,” she says. The government must take note of this. But she said she couldn’t do anything. “Then we decided: no better pay, no cooking.”

Admonition for quick solution

The school feeding program in Ghana, which has been supported by donors for a long time, has been running since 2005: it relieves families and improves the nutritional situation, including for small children. Nutritionist Suker Abubakar warns that a solution for school meals should be found soon.

The food is important for the physical development, but also for the children’s success at school: “Everyone involved must take the special needs of the children into account. A well-nourished child performs better in the classroom.”

The government’s request goes unheeded

But Ghana’s government has not yet found a solution, either for the country’s obvious financial misery or for an end to the strike. The spokeswoman for the official secretariat for school meals, Silba Alfa, asks for patience. “We’re doing everything we can to get the funds out of the ledger so we can channel them,” she says.

The Secretariat is working feverishly on it. The school caterers should please return to work by then and trust the responsible authorities, explains Alfa. But so far the request has gone unheeded. There is a great danger that Ghana’s school children will continue to come to class with an empty stomach.

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