Mauritania is a country that has been hit repeatedly by natural disasters in recent years.
Drought, desert locust invasion, and flooding have all struck causing food shortages. Located in the arid Sahel region of West Africa, Mauritania is described by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) as “one of the world’s Least Developed Countries as well as a food-deficit country.” WFP runs school feeding programs in Mauritania as part of a strategy to eliminate hunger and break the cycle of poverty. We will look more closely at this program in the following interview with GianCarlo Cirri, World Food Programme Country Director for Mauritania.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP school feeding programs within the country?
1,349 School Feeding Programs assist 136,083 children in Mauritania (as of the 2007-2008 school year). The number of beneficiaries will be increased to 153,083 for 2008-2009 school year.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition?
These meals, specifically breakfast, are especially important for a large percentage of children, who travel between 3 and 10 miles each day to attend school. For young girls especially, school feeding programs have shown impressive results: with the implementation of school feeding programs (SFCs), attendance rates for girls like Warda have shot up in Brakna and other provinces of Mauritania – at her school, for example, the number of girl pupils outnumbers boys both in terms of enrollment and attendance. The gross enrollment rate for female students (100.5% for 2006/2007) has surpassed that of males (95.4%).
In Mauritania, where gross enrollment rates are already higher than most countries in the region, universal primary education appears to be within reach as long as programs remain well-funded and coherently implemented. Assisting 136,000 children in 2007 and 2008, school feeding programs have sped up this process considerably: the gross enrollment ratio for primary education has increased to from 88.7% in 2001-2002 to 96.9% in 2007-2008; the participation of girls in the overall school population has increased to 49.5%, and grade repetition levels have dropped drastically, from 15.9% in 2002-2003 to 3.4% in 2007-2008.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
With 2/3 of the population vulnerable to food insecurity and the long distance children must travel to school, only 57.7% of school-aged children finished primary school in 2006-2007. In light of this situation, the Government of Mauritania is collaborating with partners and, with the financial support of WFP, has begun formulating a National School Feeding Program for primary and early secondary education.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?
At present, WFP is the main donor for School Feeding Programs and we plan to be in a central position to assist the Government in their creation of a National School Feeding program. Designed to broaden the scope of school feeding in Mauritania, this project would rely mainly on government funding, the financing of WFP and current donors to School Feeding.
What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?
Judging from the current situation, rising food and transportation prices have already had a strong impact, namely by reducing the number of schools and children assisted through school feeding program. Approximately 40,000 children were affected by the closure of school canteens in 242 schools in 2007/2008, leading to the dropout of 3,500 children before the end of the school year. If this trend continues, funding for school feeding programs will really need to be ramped up – not only to expand current school feeding efforts but more importantly to maintain those currently in place.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
Individuals and organizations can contribute to school feeding programs financially or through volunteerism by contacting the WFP Country Office in Nouakchott, donating to WFP online at wfp.org, or by contacting the National Ministry of Education.
Anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support.
We all need to recognize that school feeding is a fundamental tool in fighting food insecurity and reducing the social costs of rising food prices in Mauritania. This is an activity that connects the basic need for food with the fundamental need for education among younger generations – these are the individuals who will help Mauritania grow and develop in future years.
With a population slightly exceeding three million, Mauritania is part of the Sahel, where 68% of farmers and herders live in poverty. Access to food is increasingly difficult for the average rural family due to skyrocketing prices for basic food items. Food availability is also increasingly limited as Mauritania’s economy relies on imports to supply 70% of its food needs. For children in rural families, access to food often means that education comes second to agricultural work. School feeding pinpoints this problem by ensuring access to food through education, lightening the burden on parents from impoverished households by feeding children twice a day at school and speeding up country’s progress towards universal primary education by increasing enrollment rates. So far, the gross enrollment ratio for primary education has increased from 88.7% in 2001-2002 to 96.9% in 2007-2008; the participation of girls in the overall school population has increased to 49.5%, and grade repetition has dropped drastically, from 15.9% in 2002-2003 to only 3.4% in 2007-2008.
In addition to nourishing children, school canteen programs connect parents, teachers, and community. School feeding has created more stability in rural villages by keeping families in one place, and more parents are encouraged to send their children to school. Local families are often recruited in the process – fathers and mothers support teachers as substitutes; mothers rotate cooking roles for morning and evening meals in some villages. Retention of village residents has an economic effect on these villages by boosting local productivity and encouraging a sense of community.
With families and communities participating in school feeding it is easier for teachers, school directors, and local education representatives – including us at WFP – to reach out and emphasize the importance of primary education not only as a means of nourishing children but as a long-term solution to poverty.
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