The year was 2017 and the new government had made it clear its strongest determination to implement one of the most ambitious social interventions and educational policies since independence, the Free Senior High School programme, otherwise known as Free SHS.
After consultations between the Education Minister, Dr. Mathew Opoku-Prempeh and the Chief Executive Officer of National Food Buffer Stock Company (NAFCO), Mr. Hanan Abdul-Wahab, a framework agreement was signed authorizing the later to be responsible for the supply of food to government-assisted Boarding and some Day High Schools nationwide. NAFCO moved into action and started supply food to the 1st Batch of the programme that same academic year. NAFCO supplies 18 different commodities to the schools as per the terms of the Framework Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). These are maize, rice, cocoa powder, milk, sugar, flour, millet and sorghum. The rest are palm oil, vegetable oil, tin tomatoes, sardine, mackerel, tom brown, gari, peanut or groundnut paste, beans and margarine.
One of the key mandates of NAFCO as a food security reserve company since its inception has been to supply food to state agencies and the decision to task it the responsibly of food supply to senior high schools has proven to be the best and prudently so for a number of reasons.
- Quality and Quantity
Food is as essential to teenagers in schools as it stimulates their growth, well-being and ability to stay in school and concentrate on their study. The quality and safety of food supplied are not to be compromised same as the quantity. To facilitate this, NAFCO set up Food Safety Department that ensures that food supplied are safe, nutritious and of good quality and quantity.
The department does a rigorous audit of all manufacturing and storage facilities, the scope of these audits are based on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Good Storage Practices (GSP) and Good Hygiene Practices (GHP) all in accordance with the public health and food safety laws.
Apart from working in concert with regulatory bodies in the food industry to ensure compliance with the food law, NAFCO keeps records of all food items delivered to schools for traceability purposes and does monitor the food in various schools to ensure schools are storing them right.
NAFCO works with small scale industries in the food industry and have successful stories of helping them improve their products to meet regulatory standards.
Our unannounced visits to schools have also put storekeepers, matrons and caterers on their toe to be as professional and efficient as possible.
The involvement of NAFCO in the Free SHS programme has ensured that schools and for that matter students receive food in a timely manner. This averts unrests among students against school authorities as it had been the case in some time past. The timely supply and delivery of food also offer school authorities the peace of mind to focus on other things in the administration of schools.
- Made-in-Ghana promotion
One of the biggest achievement under the Free SHS has been the ability to change taste and preference for Ghanaian foods among students and a typical example is rice. NAFCO and the Ministry of Education agreed on a deliberate policy to supply Ghana rice schools and currently, most schools across the country are supplied 100 percent Ghana rice. Indeed, there are students who have developed taste and preference for rice grown in Ghana. Of the 18 food commodities, only two or three are imported and this has offered a push for the campaign to promote made in Ghana among young generation of Ghanaians.
Today, the Cocoa Processing Company (CPC), Nestle Ghana Limited, local palm oil producers, gari processors and flour makers are all in active business thanks to the Free SHS programme.
- Enrolment and retention
Apart fee-free nature of the Free SHS, the provision of variety of nutritious and healthy food has also been a reason for the high numbers in enrolment, attendance and retention in public senior high schools since 2017. While many parents now, unlike before have reasons to enroll their children in schools, the wards themselves no longer see the need to stay away from school because of lack of food.
- Employment and poverty reduction
NAFCO undertakes the supply of food to the over 700 public senior high schools using two main groups of people; Licensed Buyers who buys the grains in bulk from the farm gate on our behalf and transport them to our Warehouses dotted across the country and Licensed Suppliers who convey the food from our Warehouses to supply to the schools. All of them put together, NAFCO works with not less than 1,900 companies who themselves have number of staff playing different roles in the farming, purchasing, supply and distribution chain. And apart from the hundreds of jobs created directly, there are hundred others have benefitted immensely because of the Free SHS programme such as food processors, off loaders, truck drivers, storekeepers and many others. Also because a chunk of the foods supplied are locally grown, many, especially young professionals have gone into farming to take advantage of the already market NAFCO provides utilizing the Buffer Stock mechanism to drive the Free SHS agenda. This as ultimately reduced poverty and created employment for many.
Overall, the Free SHS has been not only successful but a game-changer in the administration of public high school education in Ghana and its sustenance surely guarantees the future of our dear nation. Government certainly deserves to be applauded.