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Interview: Romina Woldemariam of the United Nations World Food Programme

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With food prices soaring and more people falling into the pit of hunger, a global school lunch program has never been more important. School lunch programs can offer a calm in the storm of soaring food prices in developing countries. Having children ensured a meal at school is a valuable safety net for poor families.

Rising food prices are threatening the ability of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other charities to provide these meals to children. Efforts to expand existing programs to reach more needy children are also seriously jeopardized by the global food crisis.

The following is the first in a series of interviews with representatives of the WFP, discussing the status of school feeding programs in various developing countries. The first country profiled is Malawi, located in Africa. The interview is with Romina Woldemariam, Deputy Head of the WFP Malawi country program.

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

635,000 children in grades 1 to 8. Currently this is being implemented in 13 (of 28) of the most vulnerable districts in Malawi.

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

School feeding in Malawi has observed favorable results. According to our recent (2007) baseline study there has been an increase in enrollment and attendance. Although more difficult to isolate the exact cause, there is also evidence that school feeding has contributed to an improvement in school performance.

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

Currently the WFP country office is providing mid-morning meals, not lunches (schools close right after mid day). The Government of Malawi (GoM) and WFP Malawi are working together to expand the school feeding programme across all the districts. WFP is currently in the process of discussing with our government counterparts how to support the government of Malawi in this initiative.

What would 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?

Various donors and the government of Malawi would finance the universal school feeding programme. Increase in food prices has reduced the tonnage we can acquire against pledged funds. If further donations aren’t received to offset this, pipeline breaks will be experienced.

How can someone help the school feeding program in Malawi?

Provide more funds for food procurement and provide funds for complementary initiatives. These initiatives improve the impact that school feeding has. Currently, Malawi CO (country office) is assisting in the improvement of school infrastructure such as construction of school feeding shelters and storerooms to more effectively conduct the school feeding project. Further funding is required to meet objectives.

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

Malawi is ranked at 167 out of 177 on HDI (UNDP’s Human Development Index) of 2007/2008. The majority of the population lives in the rural areas and 48% live below the poverty line. A study conducted in 2006 shows that 70% of primary school children go to school without taking breakfast. Therefore, having school feeding helps most vulnerable children and prevents them from learning with an empty stomach, thereby allowing them to focus on the learning.

PSA on the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program
that funds school lunch programs in developing countries.

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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.