In keeping to its campaign promise of providing quality education in the country, the Federal Government has just concluded a memorandum of understanding deal with NASCO Foods limited, Jos for commercial production of high nutrient density biscuit for the national school feeding programme.
Consultant, Haroun Harry Audu of Unimark Limited in Jos revealed how NASCO Foods rose above the ranks to secure the contract and touched on the onerous assignment they must now sustain.
“One of the oldest federal government agencies – the Federal Institute for Industrial Research (FIIRO) – in Oshodi, Lagos, conceived the idea of a nutrient-balanced package and got its scientists and food technologists to do an elaborate research on it.
“That was how FIIRO formulated a high nutrient density biscuit sometime in mid 2015, which it said would meet the nutritional content recommended for growing young pupils from ages 5 to 12 years.
“But FIIRO recognised that the idea may not go far without the collaboration of institutions or entities that have the capacity to work on the formula, refine and mass produce it on a large scale, so it was from there that FIIRO came up with the idea to partner with NASCO.”
Besides NASCO being one of the oldest foods, biscuits and household manufacturing companies in Nigeria, our correspondent gathered that the partnership scale tipped in favour of NASCO because FIIRO is currently under the ministry of Science and Technology where the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is working in collaboration with the ministry where FIIRO is anchoring this particular project.
Audu threw more light on the package of the food programme, explaining that it goes beyond just snacks.
“What FIIRO has proposed is not just high density biscuits; they also came up with a formulation that would have a drink attached to each pack. So it is both a snack and a drink and both of them will contain the recommended daily health needs of children of that particular age demographics and the snacks however will come in quality varieties.”
On the necessity of this package for school children seeing that a good number of parents can afford these snacks for their children, Audu referred to the population of Nigeria officially pegged at 180 million and said, “We do know that every year, statistics released by reputable international development agencies refer to the fact that majority of our people live below the poverty line.
“I travel a lot and I have seen penury in Nigerian villages and as a result, many children are unable to go to school. Apart from that, the United Nations International Children and Education Fund (UNICEF) has determined that one of the incentives that will motivate children to go to school is when you provide them with some kind of feeding.
“In Kaduna state where it has been demonstrated, statistics show that the enrollment in school has increased tremendously. Don’t forget also that because of the nature of poverty in our country, a lot of parents are feeding their children without the nutritional food that aid healthy growth of children. UNICEF is however encouraging countries with huge population like Nigeria to actually go into this as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility. Don’t forget, our constitution says that government exists to promote the well-being, security and welfare of the people. So I think this is part of the intervention we should encourage.”
Although statistics of the number of school children to be fed nationwide under the programme are yet to be fully ascertained, , The Daily Times
gathered that the programme is targeted at feeding between 20-25 million school growing children on daily basis in a specially designed package.
Touching on the nationwide distribution channel, Audu
NASCO has been in this business for 53 years.
“There was a time in this country that NASCO had an outlet in every state capital and then in every major town of some of the state capitals, so the distribution network is not posing any problem.
“Every morning, NASCO loads over 30 trucks of its products that is headed to every state, taking advantage of its distribution network. In my view, the only challenge faced by NASCO is in making sure that the relationship in terms of the distribution chain is activated with all relevant states, so that once it hits the states, the packs can go down to the commissioners of education, State Universal Basic Education Board. That way, children are guaranteed their high nutrient density biscuits and drinks every day.
Considering the current economic chaos, financing the project was a very critical subject of discussion, but for any nation that is concerned about the next generation, Audu said he expects FG will do everything possible to invest on the next generation. “I believe that the Federal government must have made good provision for its take off with additional effort to invest towards the project.
“But one other angle that can sustain this project which is working in other jurisdictions is the involvement of donor agencies like the World Bank, African Union, United Nations, European Union, African Development Bank, Nigeria Import and Export bank, etc. These can all come together and make their inputs into this laudable initiative because this is an investment, not necessary for profit making but profit that will impact on and prepare the next generation.”
This is Nigeria and we cannot wave away the threat of corruption in any government project. What is the guarantee that the school feeding project would be spared?
“We have a new government and the body language we have received from Mr President shows that the reign of corruption is coming to an end. The school food programme was an electoral promise made to Nigerians and it must be fulfilled. That gives reason to why he selected the Vice President to anchor it. Considering the ways the spending of public funds are being scrutinized therefore, we are not likely to witness any mismanagement and abuse of public funds in this project, so I think it will be sustained.”
On the worry that NASCO may fall short of meeting the massive quantity of products
considering they also have to meet demands of their loyal customers, Audu said the story of NASCO is that of resilience.
“It is the only privately owned company in Nigeria that has remained afloat through the years and has continually been increasing its capacity, ideas and technology. As far as production is concerned, NASCO is the leading producer of biscuits in this country. It has about eight varieties of biscuits that it produces on daily basis. This simply means that in terms of capacity, it is prepared to meet the task of feeding 25 million school children on daily basis.
“Before now, NASCO had anticipated the collapse in our foreign exchange earnings, so in 2014, it began a process to be enlisted into the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) where 18 of its products will be exported to other African countries.
“In anticipation of the ETLS, NASCO has already expanded its capacity to be able to meet the challenges of exporting to other African countries. So in terms of capacity, NASCO has grown, people will tell you that this is not the NASCO of yesterday,” Audu said with confidence.
It would be recalled that the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the 45th Annual Accountants Conference in Abuja disclosed that the Muhammadu Buhari-administration is committed to the programme of giving primary school children free meals.
The free feeding scheme is projected to yield about 1.14 million jobs and increase food production. The multiplier effect of the school feeding scheme, the VP said, would help increase food production by up to 530,000 metric tonnes per annum and attract fresh investments of up to N980 billion.
With revelations of mindboggling corruption in high places rocking the polity, stakeholders hope this project will outlive the government that initiated it and that children who are the core beneficiaries will not be shortchanged as has been witnessed in the past.