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Interview: Napo Ntlou, United Nations World Food Programme, Lesotho

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In the African nation of Lesotho, drought and soil erosion have caused havoc in recent years, harming food production. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is helping Lesotho combat the resulting hunger and poverty, training farmers how to boost food production under difficult drought conditions with some positive results.

School feeding programs are also an essential part of the strategy for ending hunger and poverty in Lesotho. The following is an interview with Napo Ntlou, the director of the WFP school feeding program in Lesotho.

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

This table shows how may children have benefited from the WFP school feeding program in the recent past:

Year Boys Girls Total
2004 86,433 89,960 176,393
2005 71,894 80,509 152,403
2006 61,594 66,217 127,811
2007 53,816 59,879 113,695
2008 37,705 42,778 80,483

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

WFP conducted a baseline survey in 2003, and a follow-up survey in 2007, and found out that:

1. The majority of schools (53%), and 76-100% of students receive their only meal
of the entire day from school, particularly during the lean periods in the mountain region.

2. In the 2007 survey, teachers observed changes in children’s classroom behavior as a result of the school feeding. The results showed that on-site feeding has an overwhelming impact on the school children’s attentiveness and learning abilities in the classroom. School feeding is positively contributing to these various behavioral aspects. Focus groups of school children rated the impact of school feeding over 80%.

3. The 2003 Survey report revealed that for both sexes, the attendance rate ranged between 80% and 100% from grade 1 to grade 7. Similarly, the 2007 Survey showed the attendance rates for both boys and girls during the lowest and highest attendance months ranging from 90% to 100%.

Now that prices of commodities are increasing and HIV/AIDS is adversely affecting manpower to produce food and participate in activities which sustain household livelihood, WFP food assistance (the morning porridge, lunch, and take-home rations) provides nutritional backup to the children who come from food-insecure households. In this regard, school meals mainly motivate poor children to attend schools regularly, and in addition enhance their concentration span, which contributes to good performance.

From the monitoring visits, we have learned that the meals eaten in schools have proven to increase attendance, performance, and nutrition. This is seen in the beginning of the year where some of the schools have not been served with food; registration is high but attendance is very low. However, immediately after the deliveries are made, children are seen coming from all directions to attend school. During the period when food is not available, those children who manage to attend are not as active and participative in class. In many instances you find cases where children faint at schools from hunger. WFP food was meant to supplement to the children's daily food intake, but you find that it becomes the main meal that children rely on, especially orphans and vulnerable children.

Because of the nutrients available in WFP food through fortification, children change from having the look of the "old man's face," which is the sign of malnutrition, to round-faced, plump-looking children.

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

The government of Lesotho is gradually taking over the feeding program and it is expected that by 2011 all the children in primary schools will be assisted by a government feeding scheme. The government is currently providing food in the lowlands and foothills, while schools in the highland areas are being covered by WFP. WFP will continue to assist schools in the highlands until 2010. For the 2008 school year, the food requirements are likely to be met successfully. There has not been any problem with food shortages in the first three quarters of the school year.

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

For any expansion to be successful, the involvement of multinational corporations and private and individual donors would be crucial.

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

The budget had to be revised, reflecting the need for more resources than originally planned and more funding sources.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

Psychosocial support is important. Also, there is a need for complementary activities, such as school gardens, as well as improvement and construction of sanitation facilities. In the recent survey it was found that less than half of the schools have improved sanitation facilities, and very few schools have access to safe and clean water. Collaboration with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders could be of vital importance towards complementing meal components of the school feeding program.

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

Education empowers children's mental and intellectual capacity and capability to understand and initiate technical and general methods related to social, economical and political developments. Hence, the more children have access to education, the more the country develops in the long run. School feeding programs are playing a vital role in ensuring that children get an education.

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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.
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