Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter
WHILE MANY parents across the island struggle with back-to-school expenses, the burden of providing proper meals for their children has been eased in at least one constituency where the member of parliament (MP) has implemented a breakfast programme utilising foods produced in the communities across the constituency.
J.C. Hutchinson, MP for North West St Elizabeth, estimates that 50 per cent of basic- and primary-school children in his constituency attend classes daily without having a proper breakfast.
Hutchinson said under the programme, schools are currently provided with breakfast and naturally produced puréed fruit juices.
"We started the programme last year with 10 schools and we are now looking to start with 25 this year ... . We will provide breakfast for 400 students," Hutchinson added.
According to Hutchinson, since the inception of the programme, teachers have expressed that they have seen a marked improvement in students' attendance and output.
The initiative is funded from the Constituency Development Fund at a cost of $2 million and expects, Hutchinson said, an inflow of an additional $12 million from the education ministry to support the programme.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said he is supportive of the initiative and officials at his ministry are looking at how they can lend further assistance to expanding the project.
"It fits into our policy to encourage the use of local products in school nutrition," Thwaites said.
Hutchinson said farmers in the area are encouraged to produce foods such as bananas, pumpkins, yams, callaloo and cabbage along with other local fruits. He said under the programme, these are then supplemented with protein such as sardines and porridge.
Noting that it's a community initiative, Hutchinson added that volunteers from parent-teachers' associations and community groups are integral to the preparation and distribution of the meals.
He said the programme also helps the farmers in the constituency to find a market for their produce.
The Government has been pushing for the use of more local food in the school-feeding programme. Earlier this year, Cabinet gave approval for the use of liquid eggs as a substitute for the imported butter oil in the making of nutri-buns. The Government has also announced that local fruit juices will be incorporated into the programme, which Thwaites says will help to "sustain the local farming community and nourish our children better".
"There is evidence to suggest that no less than 30 per cent of our children are coming to school hungry every day and you will understand how critical that is to learning and deleterious to appropriate behaviour," he said.