The African nation of The Gambia has seen its crop harvests shrinking in recent years. Food prices also escalated in 2008. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reports that, "Poor households have limited access to basic food commodities and domestic food production meets only 50 percent of the national food requirements." Some Gambian communities are host to refugees from Senegal, and food shortages and increased prices harm their capability to provide support.
The World Food Programme is helping The Gambia fight hunger with programs like Food for Education. This program, which provides school meals, is one WFP seeks to expand. Malcolm Duthie, WFP director in The Gambia, tells us how critical school feeding is for the country.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP school feeding programs within the country?
In The Gambia we have approximately 120,000 children who directly benefit from the WFP School Feeding Program. The program helps nearly all of the children enrolled in both primary schools and early child development centers in the most food insecure areas of the country, most of them rural.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition.
As these children are in the poorest areas of the country and periodically suffer food shortages, providing meals has a very significant effect on boosting school attendance. It is estimated that at least 30% of students attend school because of the school feeding program. Most of these children would not receive a nutritious meal if they did not get this WFP supported food. The meals help to keep the children healthy. They allow them to concentrate and stay alert in the classroom, which improves their school performance. Also, the food is specially designed to provide up to 70% of a child’s daily nutritional requirement.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
We are currently planning to extend school feeding into the poorer areas of urban centers where the populations are suffering from increasing food insecurity. This could include an extra 50,000 children who currently do not benefit from school meals.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program? What has been the effect of high food prices on this funding effort?
WFP will have to look to governments and the private sector as the two main sources of funding for any expansion. Due to high food prices, the school feeding program has now been seen as one of the country's main social safety nets. It is helping communities cope by providing a nutritious meal to children at school at a time when most impoverished families have to cut back on the number of meals they eat at home. Also, the increase in food prices has led WFP to seek extra funds and support. WFP has had to aggressively seek increased funding globally simply to keep the program at its current level.