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Interview: Haladou Salha, United Nations World Food Programme, Cameroon

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Located in West Africa, the country of Cameroon has 64 percent of its rural population impacted by poverty according to the “United Nations World Food Programme” (WFP). School feeding programs can help lift children and their families out of the poverty trap. This interview, with Haladou Salha, director of the UN World Food Programme in Cameroon, discusses how critical school feeding is for these children and their country.

How many children are benefiting from the WFP School feeding programs within the country?

The school feeding component of the Country program targets the three northern provinces where enrollment rates are lower than 30 percent, and gender disparity is as high as 50 percent. In the 2007/2008 school year, WFP assisted a total of 51,017 pupils in the three Northern Provinces (Adamaoua, North and Extreme North). Some 7,200 girls in the last three grades of primary school at the end of each school term benefited from take home dry rations. In the upcoming academic year 2008/2009, starting in September the total number of beneficiaries will increase to 53,040 and some 7,560 girls will receive dry rations.

Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition?

School meals have significantly boosted school attendance. In the Mayo Rey, and Logone and Chari divisions that used to record the lowest attendance rates, schools attendance has increased up to 72 percent. Since the targeted areas are the most food insecure in the country, thanks to the school feeding program, the nutritional status of children and families have improved. According to education authorities we met during field monitoring visits, the children’s performance in WFP assisted schools is far better than in schools without WFP assistance.

On the other hand, WFP assisted schools are witnessing a rapid increase in the number of children and classrooms are sometimes crowded. However, WFP has drawn the attention of the government on this issue and all necessary measures are being taken to beef up school infrastructure and also recruitment of additional teachers.

What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?

In order to make school meals available for all children, mobilization and diversification of funding sources is very crucial. WFP is embarking on raising resources from traditional as well as non-traditional donors. WFP will undertake a continuous sensitization of the government to increase in cash and in kind contributions to the school feeding program. In the long run, WFP will be looking at the possibilities of implementing a purely homegrown school feeding program in the country.

What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?

In addition to usual support from traditional donors (and we still count on their support because of the current funding shortfall), further possible funding sources for the expansion of the school feeding program could be local fund raising activities through diplomatic representations in Cameroon, national government and other institutions and private companies. The organization of funds raising events such as Walk the World would be a strategy that could be explored, together with information sharing on the implementation process.

What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?

The rising food prices have greatly impacted on WFP activities generally as well as the school feeding component. It should be noted that WFP is now purchasing most of the commodities at local and international markets at very high prices, above what was budgeted. Furthermore, the projects are not well resourced.

Even if the projects are resourced at 100 percent, WFP Cameroon will not be able to efficiently and adequately purchase the required amounts of commodities nor pay for the transportation and other associated costs. WFP is thus seeking funding from the international community to fill the funding gap. Shortfall in resources and frequent pipeline breaks causes WFP to use reduced food rations in order to cover total needs.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

WFP Cameroon, as well WFP in general, welcomes any contributions (in cash or in kind) from individuals as well as private companies who will like to support the School Feeding Program. Contributions can be channeled through WFP Cameroon, Dakar, Rome, or in any of WFP liaison offices in Geneva, New York, or Paris. It should be noted here that with only 19 US cents, you can help WFP provide a meal for a child in school for a day, which is a real gift of hope for a brighter future.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?

School feeding, is very important especially in areas where the illiteracy rate is very high as in the northern part of Cameroon. If basic education is not supported, in the long run all illiteracy will become a heavy burden for development. The development, political stability, peace, health and security of any nation is closely linked to education.

Therefore, school feeding is one of the most reliable ways to ensure development in developing countries. It provides an empowering learning environment for all primary school children, reducing hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, and promoting gender equality in education. Furthermore, the food necessary for school feeding will be bought locally whenever possible, helping low-income farmers break the cycle of poverty.

(You can also visit the “Friends of the World Food Program” web site for more information about supporting school feeding and other programs to end world hunger. Special thanks to Ali Nigh, Jennifer Mizgata, Lisa Leenhouts-Martin, and Jennifer Parmelee of the UN World Food Programme who have helped coordinate the interviews with WFP officials in the “Ending World Hunger” series.)

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.