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Interview: Jacques Roy, Director of the UN World Food Programme, Benin

In West Africa the country of Benin is struggling with high food prices. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reports that “thirty percent of the population is rated poor while sixteen percent are reported to live in
extreme poverty.” WFP’s top priority in Benin is the school feeding program.

In the following interview with Jacques Roy, WFP country director for Benin, we will look at school feeding and its role in reducing hunger and poverty.

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

The WFP School Feeding Program in Benin is currently assisting 70,000 pupils all over the country in 10 departments and 400 public primary schools. School meals are prepared from a food basket of maize, pulses, vegetable oil, and fish.

In addition to school cafeterias, WFP is assisting local beneficiaries through take-home dry rations of 15 litres of oil per year. These are issued to each girl attending the highest three grade levels in the primary education system. This activity is targeting 35,000 additional beneficiaries in order to close the gender gap within the Beninese society.

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

The school feeding program in Benin is critical in order to improve the educational and nutritional status of students. By receiving a meal every day at school, children are encouraged not to go back home during lunch break and are more likely to remain at school for afternoon class. Many students in rural areas of the country walk miles from home every day to get to school, so the presence of a cafeteria offers a great incentive for them as well as a way for parents to offset the opportunity costs of managing the household without their children.

Since the beginning of the project, attendance rates have increased and dropout rates have decreased during the school year. Over the past two years the enrolment rate has increased by 50% and the dropout rate has declined by 20%. Moreover, children’s overall nutritional levels have improved. According to teachers and parents in the field, in-class concentration levels have also improved.

The take-home dry ration we provide improves food security in assisted households and encourages the enrolment of girls, decreasing the gender disparity at the primary school level. There are currently seven girls to every ten boys for each class, a significant step toward reaching the goal of a 50:50 ratio. Additional family rations will be distributed to pupils before the new school year begins in an effort to keep students in village areas enrolled.

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

The WFP country office, along with the national government, has been implementing a 5 year project since 2004 to assist beneficiaries by providing them with a warm meal everyday.

The project has two main goals:

1. Deliver foods in a timely and efficient manner
2. Create and consolidate local partnerships in the field

After WFP, along with the local government, sets up the delivery of food directly to the beneficiaries’ premises, local cafeteria management committees of students, parents, and teachers are created to ensure the preparation of the daily hot meal. Monitoring and evaluation strategies are used to follow up on and improve our activities and achieve our short, medium and long term goals.

What should be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program? What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?

Funding for our project comes primarily from donations from donor governments, especially from Western Europe. The national government would like to take over financial responsibility for the program, but is unable to do so because of the food price crisis and a lack of resources.

Not surprisingly, the school feeding program in Benin is critically under-funded and in need of additional resources. WFP in Benin consistently employs a local procurement approach over international market purchasing options in order to provide growth opportunities to the local food industry and increase the local production of main food crops. However, the local market in Benin is overheating following the international trend of inflation and regional food crop supply shocks. Consequently, the cost of the basic food basket for beneficiaries has increased by 80% over the last year. This has negatively affected the performance of our activities by almost halving our budget and the value of all the donations received.

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.