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Interview with Ingela Christiansson of the World Food Programme in Zimbabwe

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The people of Zimbabwe are suffering from severe food shortages and need the assistance of aid groups such as the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). According to WFP, the food shortages are the result of “a succession of small harvests, some poor agricultural policies and a declining economy.”

School feeding programs are needed to help children through this food crisis in Zimbabwe. Ingela Christiansson of the WFP in Zimbabwe discusses school feeding and how it helps vulnerable children and their families.

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

The WFP School Based Feeding Program (SBFP) is targeting schools in high-density urban and peri-urban suburbs with the most food insecure households and children, identified based on an assessment jointly carried out by WFP and NGO partners.

Some parents are unable to send their children to school, so WFP has expanded its school feeding program to include these vulnerable children. As a result, approximately 170,000 children, both in and out of school, are benefiting from the program.

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

The objectives of the program are to increase food consumption and improve nutrition in children, both in and out of school. By extending the program to children not currently attending school, WFP can reach the most vulnerable, food insecure children. For children in school, the break-time meal provides them with a nutritious meal each school day and allows what little food is available in the household to go farther.

The School Based Feeding Program (SBFP) directly contributes to increased food access for the children. The provision of school meals also increases enrollment and attendance in school and alleviates short-term hunger, thus improving concentration in class.

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

Until the end of April 2008, some 115,000 in-school children in two districts, Bulawayo and Harare, were provided with meals every school day through WFP. WFP has expanded its coverage, as well as its caseload, since May 2008. In Harare, the number of beneficiaries has more than doubled from 25,000 to 52,000, due to expansion of the covered area.

The program is now being implemented in Mutare district, where some 27,000 children are fed school meals. The total number of children benefiting from the program is as high as 170,000. WFP plans to expand the program in other food insecure, high-density urban areas should the food security situation remain critical.

As the program covers not only children attending school but also children not attending, food is made available to those who come to school just for the meal. These children are among the most food insecure in the area.

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

WFP receives its funding solely through government and private donations. For WFP in Zimbabwe, additional contributions will be needed to facilitate an expansion of operations such as the school feeding program.

As of May 2008, the program was expanded to cover twice as many needy areas and schools. WFP and its partners are currently identifying other vulnerable areas where assistance could be provided through school feeding. Strengthening of community networks and community social services will also be needed for NGO partners to identify vulnerable, out-of-school children.

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

The increasing demand on food has put a strain on the market in terms of supply. This has affected the school feeding program, as well as other programs under the WFP work plan in Zimbabwe.

High food prices have placed extra pressure on regional procurement in South Africa, which is where most of WFP buys most of the food for the programs in Zimbabwe. High fuel prices have made the situation even worse by increasing the cost of transportation from suppliers to the warehouse.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

It is important that WFP and its stakeholders work together closely to ensure that the required food is available in the schools every month on a timely basis. Food distribution will be handled by NGO partners with the participation of the community, who will assist in preparing the food for the children.

Needless to say, participation of the School Development Committee (SDC) is indispensable. In the schools, one of the teachers is designated as a school feeding coordinator and is responsible for bringing a certain amount of food out of the storeroom every morning based on the attendance rate of the previous day.

The coordinator is also accountable for maintaining the records. Cooks selected by the community will start preparing the meals in time for the mid-morning break, where the children receive their daily portion. Children not attending school are fed later in the day and normally eat on the school premises.

In addition to WFP assistance, UNICEF is providing support to the school feeding program under the current WFP work plan. The support started a few months ago and, since then, UNICEF has provided schools with non food items such as pots, buckets and bars of soap to all SBFP schools, a limited number of plates to all schools, water tanks to those schools where there is no water source (i.e. borehole not functioning, water not treated, no tap water, etc) to complement the program.

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

The program is very important given the current economic hardships in Zimbabwe. Depleted food reserves in households due to poor agricultural harvests, coupled with other material deprivation, have left many parents unable to send their children to school. Instead, they make them contribute to the household income.

Therefore, one of the main objectives of this program is to give children who are not in school access to one hot meal per day. This increases their food intake, improves their nutrition and may entice them to go back to school.

Feedback from WFP’s partners indicates that the school feeding program has increased attendance rates and has reduced pressure on household food stocks by providing children with one meal a day at school.

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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.