No action has been taken to correct the repeated instances of damaged food items in schools 

Students in boarding schools are not eating the right or good food, according to the Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) latest performance report on the school-feeding programme in 16 schools.

The RAA, during its audit of the programme last year, observed a lack of standard dietary requirement prescribed for students because of which, the schools cannot ensure that nutrient intakes meet the requirements.

A systematic monitoring system was lacking to review and ascertain the micronutrient deficiencies among schoolchildren in the country.

“School menus did not include variety of foods and the menu cycle was repeated day in and out throughout the academic year,” the report stated.

The schools had developed ‘just one option’ menu, which did not include a wide variety of foods.  “The menu was repeated throughout the year discouraging children from eating and thus, reducing intake of nutrients,” the audit team noted.

The food prepared in visited schools was found unpalatable and unappetizing discouraging students to eat the right portion and resulting in fewer intakes of nutrients.

While the introduction of fortified rice in some schools is expected to address nutrient deficiencies to a certain extent, the RAA recommended the education ministry to develop a minimum dietary requirement standard for students besides instituting a strong monitoring and inspection mechanism to ensure that all schools comply with the standard.

An effective mechanism for monitoring nutritional status should be implemented, the RAA stated, so that appropriate preventive measures can be taken in case of micronutrient deficiencies such as periphery neuropathy or hidden hunger.

There was a lack of strong quality control system in the school feeding commodity supply chain. As a consequence, food items supplied to schools were infested or damaged within a short span of time.

The audit team found that schools did not check the quality of food commodities when receiving deliveries from the Food Corporation of Bhutan, although the MoU with FCB clearly stipulates schools to inspect commodities for damages and infestations.

It was found that the school managements only verified physical quantities through manual counting, as they did not have the capacity or means to check the quality of food commodities delivered. This led to accepting poor quality food items infested by rice weevils particularly lentil.

For instance, both Monggar Higher Secondary School (MHSS) and Kengkhar Lower Secondary School (KLSS) had received some damaged or spoiled stock of pulses (dal), which were infested with rice weevil, during the month of June and July 2016. In MHSS, the RAA found that the mess team has separated infested food items from other food items but in KLSS, the pulses were stored in the same place and this in turn has infected other food items as well.

In order to ensure good quality of food commodities supplied to schools, the audit team recommended that the school education department should institute a strong quality control system in school feeding by involving BAFRA as an independent assessor.

Food Commodity Reports submitted by schools to the ministry were not used effectively for preparing food release note for the supply of food items. This resulted in ordering surplus or short quantities of food items required by the schools. Surplus orders would lead to spoilage and wastage of resources. Short orders would result in depriving schoolchildren of getting adequate quantity of nutrients.

While rice issued to Chapcha MSS was in excess of requirement by 11.668 metric tonnes (MT), Pemagatshel MSS was short of 8.567MT and had borrowed rice in 2015 from another school. Such instances are prevalent in all the three half-years that was compared. However, in case of Soya chunks, most of the 16 schools received less than their requirements during the audit period.

The storage facilities particularly for perishable items were inadequate leading to spoilage of vegetables with less shelf-lives resulting in wastage and depriving schoolchildren of getting good diets or nutrition.

Pulses, rice, soya chunks, and chickpeas are the main food items, which get damaged often in schools. From July 2014 to December 2015, a total of 36.4MT of food commodities were damaged causing a loss of Nu 1.571million to the government. Of the 36.4MT, 19.8MT was pulses, 6.5MT was rice, 6.2MT soya chunks, and 3.5 MT was chickpeas.

Pemagatshel HSS lost 1.65MT of rice to rats during 2015 and 2016, 295kgs of pulses and 105kgs of soya chunk were damaged in Karmaling MSS in 2014, and 750kgs of pulses were spoiled in Chungkha Primary School and the students were not served lentil for September and October 2016.

Denchukha Lower Secondary School in Samtse could not provide chickpeas to students for two months, as 345Kg of chickpeas were spoiled.

“Despite repeated instances of damaged food items being reported, neither the Department nor the individual schools have taken any corrective measures to curb such instances,” the RAA report stated.

There are 110 feeding schools in the country. The government spends Nu 1,000 a student a month on meals for all boarding schools.

Tshering Palden