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Interview with Bienvenu Djossa, World Food Progamme Country Director for Senegal

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In the African nation of Senegal, malnutrition rates are high, especially in rural areas where there are fewer basic services. Natural disasters and high food prices have contributed to food shortages for many families in Senegal. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reports that “The post-conflict region of Casamance is particularly vulnerable, with poverty rates among the highest in the country.” Hunger and poverty threaten the 2004 peace agreement signed between Senegal’s government and the separatist movement MFDC after two decades of conflict in the Casamance.

School feeding programs are critical for helping Senegal overcome its massive challenges. Bienvenu Djossa, WFP Country Director, recently discussed school feeding in Senegal.

How many children are benefiting from the WFP School Feeding program in Senegal?

In Senegal, the school feeding program supports over 600,000 school children in 4,000 schools (90 percent elementary and 10 percent kindergarten). This is approximately 36 percent of registered primary school children nationwide.

The school feeding program is run in close collaboration with partners such as the Ministry of Education and Caritas (NGO). In addition to regular schools, WFP also assists three establishments that distinguish themselves through special educational programs for children suffering from physical or mental handicaps as well as leprosy.

The children receive one hot meal per day, composed of cereals, legumes, vitamin A enriched vegetable oil and iodized salt. Canteen management (food stocking, cooking) is ensured by management committees and closely involves well-respected parents in the community. During the 2008/2009 school year, provided there is sufficient funding, approximately 14,330 tons of food are expected to be delivered to the WFP supported schools at a total cost of US $13 million.

What effect do the meals have on the children in terms of attendance, performance, and nutrition?

Through regular, healthy, well-balanced meals, children strengthen their physical and intellectual abilities. Good health promotes motivation and develops the child’s interest in his or her classes. “An empty stomach cannot hear” and only a well-fed child can focus and compete in class.

School feeding in Senegal has a very positive impact on child development and education. An analysis carried out comparing beneficiary and non-beneficiary schools revealed that the quality of education has improved considerably, which is reflected in a decrease of grade repetition figures and a 43 percent increase in chances for a successful completion of the Elementary School through the Certificat de fin d’Etudes Elementaires (CFEE). The study also showed an increase in attendance rates in comparison to non-beneficiary schools. A particular increase was noted among girls.

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

WFP currently assists 36 percent of primary school children in Senegal. We are working with the Ministry of Education to build capacity in project management to ensure the implementation of a national school feeding strategy that targets all children. These activities are part of WFP’s plan to hand the school feeding program over to the Senegalese government in the future. Providing access to school feeding for all children is high on the Senegalese government’s agenda. In order to achieve this goal, WFP continues to advocate for resources from donor countries, the government of Senegal, local authorities, NGO’s, the private sector, and local communities.

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

In order to ensure the implementation of the current program for the 2008/2009 school year, WFP requires US $13 million, of which only 25 percent has been secured. In order to meet the requirements for an expansion of school feeding, WFP relies on donor generosity and government responsibility. One of WFP’s main challenges today is to mobilize sufficient resources to assist the children enrolled in non-WFP supported schools. WFP is also working to ensure the purchase and delivery of the food commodities needed for reintroducing a second daily meal of breakfast to children in the school feeding program.

The high food prices, which have affected Senegal since 2008, have caused a considerable decrease in the purchasing power of households. The crisis has therefore required WFP to reinforce and expand the school feeding program both in the number of beneficiaries and geographical coverage. As a result, the number of targeted school children increased from 300,000 to the current 600,000 throughout Senegal. The high costs of the additional food commodities, such as rice, have imposed a considerable budget increase in 2008. Some donors have responded through donating to funds that work to relieve the effects of high food prices.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

The school feeding program can be supported many ways. Donor governments and any corporation, organization or individual willing to help can make contributions to the school feeding program. Host governments and local communities can help in the development and management of the food stocks, supplies, and labor required to run the program.

It costs only 25 cents (US) per day to fill one of the red cups that WFP uses to distribute food in its school feeding programs. Donors can “Fill the Cup” online with a contribution at WFP’s website or in the U.S. at Friends of WFP.

Why is school feeding important for people to support?

School feeding has a positive impact on the daily lives of the children. It promotes education by providing meals to children to increase their energy and concentration in the classroom. The guarantee of a meal at school boosts attendance rates by providing an incentive to attend class. School feeding also helps to close the gender gap between girls and boys in the classroom by encouraging parents to send their daughters to school.

School feeding helps to decrease instances of child labor. Children go to school instead of work and household expenditures on food are reduced because the children are being fed in school.

The programs help to promote peace building. In Casamance, a region in the south of Senegal, school feeding supports social cohesion and stabilization for displaced families living in host communities while awaiting return to their home villages. Children are able to go to school and parents become involved in canteen management activities such as cooking and managing supplies.

School feeding improves health and nutrition in children. It is a platform for activities by partners in promoting health and sanitation. WFP-supported schools are targeted for de-worming activities, the building or refurbishment of separate toilets and latrines, and projects to ensure access to clean drinking water.

Investments in education yield high returns to both the individual and society through economic growth and development.

WFP promotes the purchase of food commodities at the local level, thus reinforcing the local economy and boosting local agricultural production.

School feeding helps countries to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially the goal of education for all.

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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.