Dairy Board called out for inaction on school meal plan
Three years after announcing plans to reintroduce milk to the school feeding programme, the Jamaica Dairy Development Board is being called out for failing to take the necessary steps to get it done.
Chief executive officer of the Dairy Board, Hugh Graham, told the Financial Gleaner the agency has not yet succeeded in obtaining government buy-in and will have to re-engage the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to try and advance the discussions.
The board oversees the milk market.
However, a former chairman of Nutrition Products Limited (NPL), the statutory body which provides breakfast and lunches to schools under the Education Ministry's meal programme, said the agency has had no discussions with the Dairy Board to have milk added to the menu.
Graham had earmarked the school feeding programme "as a major market for growing milk consumption," noting the Dairy Board was very hopeful that "at least certain quantities of milk or milk products," would be taken up by the programme.
But former chairman of NPL's board, James Rawle, says that was just "talk" as there has been no formal engagement with Nutrition Products, so far, to set the plan in motion.
"No discussion was going on with them. There was no milk coming to the programme - they weren't serious people," Rawle said.
Nutrition Products itself has tried a milk product made of dried skimmed milk with plans to improve on this, given the response from students, he said.
But as for the inclusion of fresh milk, Rawle said the cost and availability are prohibitive.
"There was no milk available in any case, and with the cost of milk, the programme couldn't afford it anyway," the former board chair said.
Graham, however, rebuffed Rawle's assertions, saying he has had discussions with Nutrition Products but no decisions were taken "because funding was always an issue."
He said at the time of the talks Nutrition Products reported an allotment of $70 per child per week, but "that couldn't fund milk in the programme."
In the past, the issue of cost had arisen as a matter "to be considered within the context of the ministry's overall budget for the programme," Graham said.
Now with the change in administration since the February general election, the Dairy Board has to resubmit its pitch to the Ministry of Education.
"The Jamaica Dairy Development Board continues to consider schools as an important possible market for the expansion of milk consumption not just for the sale of more milk but, importantly, to increase milk intake and improve nutrition among school-age children," Graham said.
"We will be reopening discussions with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information on this important issue," he added.
In the meantime, the Dairy Board is pressing on with its campaign to gin up milk consumption by Jamaicans.
"For example, under the Antenatal and Postnatal Nutrition Support Programme, the Dairy Board, and some milk processors, are currently collaborating to donate milk free of cost to pregnant women," said Graham
To date, the project has supplied milk to 300 mothers across 10 locations in eight parishes - amounting to around 1.5 litres of milk per week doled out at selected health centres and hospitals.
Under the Dairy Revitalisation Programme, the Dairy Board is hoping to increase milk production, which now averages 12.7 million litres per year. One private player in the market, Seprod-owned Serge Island Dairies, is crafting a plan aimed at driving consumption to 20 million litres in three to four years under a private-public partnership.