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Interview: Wagdi Othman, Deputy Country Director of the UN World Food Programme, Cote d’Ivoire

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Located in West Africa, Côte d’Ivoire is a country where 800,000 people have been displaced following a 2002 “attempted coup-turned-rebellion.” According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) “the prolonged crisis in Côte d’Ivoire has created a complex humanitarian emergency that has disrupted the country’s food security.”

School feeding is part of the World Food Programme’s response to help Côte d’Ivoire recover from this tragedy. In the following interview with Wagdi Othman, Deputy Country Director of WFP in Côte d’Ivoire, we will look at the progress of this vital school feeding program.

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

The WFP School Feeding Program in Côte d’Ivoire covers 3,013 primary schools all over the country. 600,000 school children receive a hot meal everyday.

The WFP School Feeding Program in Côte d’Ivoire complements the national school feeding program, which aims at progressively taking over WFP assistance with its own resources. The Government of Côte d’Ivoire also assists some 300,000 school children in 2,050 primary schools through its own resources.

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

Monitoring and evaluation surveys show that school feeding strongly improves children’s attendance and performance.

a) Attendance rates for both girls and boys have been increasing, as well as gender parity indexes as follows:
-From 2005 to 2006, attendance rates for girls = 92.7% versus 94.4 % for boys;
gender parity index = 0.69
– From 2006 to 2007, attendance rates for girls = 94.5% versus 95.2% for boys;
gender parity index = 0.74
-From 2007 to date, attendance rates for girls = 96.3% versus 97.1% for boys;
gender parity index = 0.75

b) Performance rates in primary schools with a cafeteria are increasing. 71.5% of children received a grade of 5/10 and 82.2% of children graduated to a higher grade.

c) For many children, a school lunch is the only nutritious meal of the day.

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

In order to make school meals available for all children, the Government of Côte d’Ivoire launched the “Integrated and Sustainable School Cafeteria Program” in 1998. The program aims to involve communities in the supply and the management of their local school cafeterias by progressively replacing WFP or government operations. The integrated and sustainable school cafeteria program is based on the strategy of “one school, one cafeteria.” The school’s cafeteria supplies are also based on the local production of commodities. Another essential component of the program is the parent and community support of meal costs. They pay 25 CFA francs or USD 5 cents for each meal, an important contribution that makes parents and communities feel that they are the real stakeholders.

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

In order to expand the school cafeterias to all primary schools across the country, as planned by the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, different sources of funding are needed. They include the contributions of the national government, the UN system including WFP, and the local communities. Private donations are also welcomed. Until communities are able to produce enough commodities to supply their school cafeterias with food for four days a week, food aid and agricultural tools and technology need to be provided.

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

As a consequence of rising food prices and the resulting insufficient contributions to our operation in Côte d’Ivoire, WFP has been forced to reduce the amount of food deliveries for the last three months of the school year (April, May, June).

How can someone help the school feeding program?

There are many different ways to help the School Feeding Program. Support is needed in terms of food aid, financial resources, and technical support to increase local production and promote sustainability.

The support could be used (a) to build or rehabilitate the cafeterias and food storage rooms; (b) to equip school cafeterias with seats, tables and kitchen equipment, (c) to provide improved seeds (rice, maize); (d) to train communities on farming techniques, food processing, and conservation techniques.

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

The Integrated and Sustainable School Cafeterias Program in Côte d’Ivoire is a real community-based model which can be used in other African countries.

Despite the socio-political crisis, the Government of Côte d’Ivoire succeeded in mobilizing the local communities to produce food for the village school cafeteria. The program needs the support of donors more than ever. WFP thanks donors for the support they have already given and encourages them to continue to support the Côte d’Ivoire School Feeding Program as an effective way to fight poverty and under-development in Africa.

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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.