May 27, 2011, 2:32 PM
World Food Programme (WFP) and the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) last week validated a draft report on the school feeding programme in The Gambia.
The report focuses on the type of food to be provided in school, and opportunities for local procurement of this food.
This is essential because it is out to ensuring that the food our children consume in school is homegrown and pure.
School feeding programmes, in a wider perimeter, provide both educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children in school.
It has been proven that SFP has led to increased enrollment rates and reduced absenteeism in school, as well as improved food security at the household level.
These are some of the key reasons governments and world institutions like World Bank, WFP and other regional bodies are supporting existing school feeding programmes around the world, especially in developing countries, where many schoolchildren come from very poor homes.
According to international institutions such as WFP and World Bank, every day more than 66 million children go to school hungry and, in many countries, fewer girls attend school than boys.
Research also shows that providing in-school meals, mid-morning snacks, and take-home rations through school feeding programmes can alleviate short-term hunger, increase children’s abilities to concentrate, learn, perform specific tasks, and has been linked to an increase in the enrolment of girls.
It has also been discovered that low-income countries are expanding school feeding, because these programmes help them get closer to reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by drawing more children, especially young girls, into the classroom.
“If these programmes provide micronutrients such as iron, iodine, vitamin A, B-vitamins, and zinc through fortified foods and are combined with other school health interventions such as deworming, there may be additional benefits for children’s cognitive abilities and educational achievement,” a World Bank report stated.
So the effort being made by WFP and the MoBSE to put in place a sound National Local Procurement mechanism for school-feeding programme in The Gambia is worth serious commendation and support.
It is more so because this initiative is designed to effectively integrate farmer associations/groups/cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the local procurement strategy.
We are also made to know that MoBSE and WFP have successfully purchased 61.8 metric tonnes of locally produced milled rice for the school-feeding programme, which “shows that local procurement for the homegrown school feeding programme is possible”.
While this is in the right direction, there are however other challenges to be prepared for to ensure the programme does not end with a lame foot or even demise.
According to the World Bank, challenges for school feeding programmes can range from their high operational costs to the need to build the capacity to procure food locally.
It states: “In order for a country to have an effective school feeding programme that focuses their resources on the neediest children, countries must: (a) determine if school feeding is the most effective social safety net option; (b) set programme objectives and predicted outcomes, and determine administrative costs; (c) establish a system of effective targeting; (d) select the type of food to be provided in school, explore opportunities for local procurement and the feasibility of offering take-home rations through the programme; (e) plan for school-level management, implementation, and monitoring of the ongoing school feeding activities; and (f) determine if complementary health and nutrition activities such as de-worming, vitamin supplementation, or fortification can be incorporated into the programme to achieve additional benefits.”
It is essential to note that the European Union has contributed millions of euros to the World Food Programme’s ‘school feeding programme’ in The Gambia.
The programme was set up to mitigate against the impact of the 2008 food crisis and support the WFP-funded programme across the country.
“Poverty is a very complicated issue, but feeding a child isn’t.”