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Interview with Malcolm Duthie, Country Director for the World Food Programme in The Gambia

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The African nation of The Gambia has seen its crop harvests shrinking in recent years. Food prices also escalated in 2008. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reports that, “Poor households have limited access to basic food commodities and domestic food production meets only 50 percent of the national food requirements.” Some Gambian communities are host to refugees from Senegal, and food shortages and increased prices harm their capability to provide support.

The World Food Programme is helping The Gambia fight hunger with programs like Food for Education. This program, which provides school meals, is one WFP seeks to expand. Malcolm Duthie, WFP director in The Gambia, tells us how critical school feeding is for the country.

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

In The Gambia we have approximately 120,000 children who directly benefit from the WFP School Feeding Program. The program helps nearly all of the children enrolled in both primary schools and early child development centers in the most food insecure areas of the country, most of them rural.

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

As these children are in the poorest areas of the country and periodically suffer food shortages, providing meals has a very significant effect on boosting school attendance. It is estimated that at least 30% of students attend school because of the school feeding program. Most of these children would not receive a nutritious meal if they did not get this WFP supported food. The meals help to keep the children healthy. They allow them to concentrate and stay alert in the classroom, which improves their school performance. Also, the food is specially designed to provide up to 70% of a child’s daily nutritional requirement.

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

We are currently planning to extend school feeding into the poorer areas of urban centers where the populations are suffering from increasing food insecurity. This could include an extra 50,000 children who currently do not benefit from school meals.

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

WFP will have to look to governments and the private sector as the two main sources of funding for any expansion. Due to high food prices, the school feeding program has now been seen as one of the country’s main social safety nets. It is helping communities cope by providing a nutritious meal to children at school at a time when most impoverished families have to cut back on the number of meals they eat at home. Also, the increase in food prices has led WFP to seek extra funds and support. WFP has had to aggressively seek increased funding globally simply to keep the program at its current level.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

The Gambia School Feeding Project relies on raising funds to cover its costs. Contributions in cash to WFP directed to supporting this school feeding program are the best forms of support. Lobbying respective governments and authorities to support school feeding can also help raise support. Those who donate to the program can see the direct impact that their contribution has on children and families in The Gambia. People can contribute by donating directly to WFP via their website. Even small contributions can make a difference.

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

Investing in children is one of the best ways in which we can aid the development of countries like The Gambia. A well-nourished child is better able to benefit from the educational system and will be better placed to help his or her own country in the future. We know that every year a girl has access to education improves the health of her future family. It boosts both the family’s nutritional levels and their ability to improve their own access to more, and better, food.

The Gambia school feeding project adds one extra meal to families that have had to cut back on the number of daily meals they can provide to their family members. Families are more reliant than ever on their children getting an extra meal at school.

The school feeding program also provides an opportunity for further projects in communities around the country. Along with the school feeding program, we provide activities aimed at improving the school infrastructure, the management of the schools, and the involvement of the community. It also includes the development of school gardens to teach children and their communities about better food production and how to improve nutrition. School feeding provides a very valuable organizational framework to provide health education and improve hygiene practices both within schools and in communities. School feeding gives the school value within the communities. Parents see that the school and its staff care about their children.

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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.
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