May 15, 2013, 8:50 AM
The day was marked to celebrate food and culture, and renew commitment to the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
Held at the GOVI school in Kanifing, the event brought together government officials, international partners and school children, who witnessed the exhibition of varieties of local dishes by various hotel cooks, restaurants, the school nutrition association, FAO, WFP and UNAIDS, among other participants.
In his launching statement, the executive director of the National Nutrition Agency, Modou Cheyanssin Phall, highlighted the government’s recognition of the role played by development partners in the school feeding programme, especially the World Food Programme, who has led and supported school feeding in The Gambia over the years.
He assured them of government’s continued investment in the development of the human capital, adding that it would also continue to commit resources in key priority sectors including health and education as this is instrumental in achieving the government’s desire and development agenda.
School meals, he said, have helped and facilitated the successful completion of basic education for many, thus opening up higher educational and employment opportunities and allowing school children to meaningfully contribute to the development of the country.
“School meals enhance social protection and is a safety net for communities, as it relieves hunger and contributes to better learning, increases enrolment, reduces absenteeism and enhances progressions from one grade to the next thus enabling children to achieve their full potential,” he pointed out.
World Food Programme country representative Victoria Ginja commended the Gambia government for its “enormous contribution” to child feeding and nutrition.
She said that providing meals to children in schools has been a cornerstone of WFP’s work, adding that approximately 19.8 million children in 63 countries receive WFP-supported school meals.
They perform this work with government and non-government partners including the European Union, UNICEF, FAO, among other international institutions, she stated.
“The Gambia has taken concrete steps moving toward a nationally owned and managed school meals programme,” she pointed out.
She added that school feeding programmes present a huge market with a great potential for smallholder farmers and small agricultural businesses, especially those run by women.
The WFP country representative pointed out that relying on locally sourced commodities also improves the sustainability of the school feeding programme.
The permanent secretary of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, Baboucarr Bouye, said a balanced diet is a pre-condition for a healthy body, mind and soul.
He added that malnutrition is mainly a consequence of ignorance of what to eat, and when and how to prepare the food.
The Director of Basic and Secondary Education, Amicoleh Mbaye, said the aims of the International School Meals Day include raising awareness of the importance of the nutritional quality of the school meals programme worldwide, emphasizing the connection between healthy eating, education and better learning.
It also includes connecting children around the world to foster healthy eating habits and promote well-being in schools; and raising awareness of the hunger and poverty issues being addressed through school feeding programmes.