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Interview with Stanlake Samkange, World Food Programme Director in Uganda

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The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is helping Uganda fight hunger and poverty, particularly in the Karamoja region. WFP reports that in Karamoja, “…recurrent droughts and ongoing violence have left an estimated 970,000 of its inhabitants unable to provide for their immediate food needs.”

School feeding programs help combat the tragic cycle of hunger and poverty that exists in Uganda. Stanlake Samkange, WFP Country Director in Uganda, provides an update on the status of school feeding programs in the country.

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

In Uganda, WFP’s School Feeding Program takes place in the northeastern region of Karamoja. As the country’s poorest region — with over 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line — Karamoja has a long history of severe food insecurity. Currently, the region remains trapped in a vicious cycle of chronic hunger and poor education.

While it is widely recognized that improved education can curb the transmission of chronic hunger from one generation to another, there are many challenges associated with promoting education in an environment such as Karamoja. For example, in four of the region’s five districts, completion rates for primary education range from six to 10 percent. Furthermore, a significant gender disparity persists in the school completion rates. In one district, this disparity is as wide as 33 percent (67 percent completion for boys, 34 percent for girls).

WFP Uganda has devised a multi-tiered intervention that aims to break the vicious cycle of chronic hunger and poor education in Karamoja.

• At one level, WFP is providing school meals to almost 80,000 school pupils — both male and female — in order to mitigate the impact of chronic hunger on the general school completion rate. Participating schools are helped by WFP to provide morning porridge and a midday meal to all pupils.

• At another level, WFP is providing a “girl’s take home ration” (GTHR) — reserved exclusively for those girls whose school attendance is registered at 80% or more — to serve as an additional incentive for families to educate their girls. Currently, around 7,500 female pupils are benefiting from the GTHR program.

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

School Attendance: Evidence gathered from WFP monitoring of the School Feeding Program in Uganda suggests that it is having a powerful impact in terms of improving general attendance rates.

• In an evaluation of WFP’s School Feeding Program conducted in 2006, it was discovered that the introduction of the school meal had contributed towards an increase in the overall attendance rate in WFP-assisted schools from 83% (in 2005) to 96% (in 2006).

• During a short period in 2007 — when a resource shortfall forced a temporary interruption to the entire School Feeding Program — attendance rates dropped back to 87%.

• In an evaluation conducted in 2007 of the “girl’s take home ration” (GTHR) program, it was discovered that there had been an improvement in gender equity between boys and girls in WFP-assisted schools, from 89 girls to every 100 boys in 2006 to 90 girls to every 100 boys in 2007.

Performance: Evidence gathered from WFP monitoring of the School Feeding Program in Uganda also suggests that it is having an impact on the pupils’ performance. In a survey conducted at WFP-assisted schools, 95% of teachers claimed they had witnessed an improvement in the pupils’ concentration levels and their ability to assimilate new information since the introduction of the program.

Nutrition: A WFP-sponsored school meal provides around 27% of the daily energy requirements of a child. WFP maize meal and oil are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals that can address anemia, goiter and night blindness, among other illnesses.

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

Although WFP Uganda’s School Feeding Program is an effective, short-term remedy for addressing low school attendance and the gender disparity in primary schools, it does not tackle the underlying causes of these problems. Furthermore, the policy stance taken by the Government of Uganda on this issue is that the responsibility for feeding children, even during school hours, should ultimately reside with parents.

In response, WFP is supporting a process in which the responsibility for school feeding will be gradually transferred from external development agencies (such as WFP and schools) to parents. To achieve this goal, a campaign is being piloted in a few districts, the purpose of which is:

• To demonstrate to parents the importance of a packed lunch for children attending primary school in improving the quality of their education.

• To engage community leaders, the district-level political leadership, and the media by rallying their support for the initiative.

• To empower primary school children with knowledge of the campaign, so they can request a packed lunch from their parents every school day.

The key activity in the packed lunch campaign is a one-day event attended by primary school-going children and their parents, community leaders, representatives from the district-level authorities, and the local media. During the event, a range of innovative techniques are used by WFP and its partners to raise awareness among the target audience.

It includes performances by well-known local artists, the distribution of “packed lunch commitment certificates” to parents, and the nomination of “Quality Education Mobilizers” within parents’ groups, whose task is to monitor the implementation of the packed lunch program.

Once the campaign model has been piloted and is proven to be effective, WFP Uganda plans to roll it out across the entire region of Karamoja.

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?

Sources of funding for an expansion of the School Feeding Program: Under normal circumstances, the School Feeding Program is funded through WFP Uganda’s ‘traditional’ institutional donors. In addition, the McGovern-Dole Foundation has awarded a grant of USD $16 million to WFP Uganda over the next three years which will support the program. WFP has also received modest support from the Government of Uganda, which has been contributing towards the transport costs for delivering food to schools.

While there are currently no plans to expand the School Feeding Program geographically, it is important to note that the existing program is facing a significant resource shortfall, which threatens its existence. In mid-February 2009, WFP Uganda launched a massive 9-month emergency operation targeting 970,000 drought-affected persons in Karamoja.

It includes general food assistance to all food insecure households and supplementary and therapeutic feeding to treat persons who have already become malnourished. Given the seriousness of the 2009 humanitarian crisis in Karamoja and the purpose of the emergency operation to save lives, all donor resources that have already been committed to WFP Uganda are being prioritized for the relief effort.

Inevitably, this has had an effect on the funding available for those areas of WFP’s program portfolio which address more medium to long-term problems, including the School Feeding Program, whose focus is chronic hunger. In light of this, it is hoped that ‘new’ donors can be mobilized to support the School Feeding Program in 2009 and beyond, thereby ensuring that it continues uninterrupted.

Effect of rising food prices on the funding effort: The rise in global food prices experienced in 2008 has stretched WFP Uganda’s resources by reducing our purchasing power. Furthermore, rises in the cost of fuel experienced during the same period have significantly increased overheads associated with the delivery of the School Feeding Program.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

The principle vehicle through which WFP raises financial support for its global School Feeding Programs is the “Fill the Cup” program. Contributions can be made online, or in the United States with the Friends of the World Food Program.

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

Chronic hunger among children is undermining the development prospects of the entire region of Karamoja because of its adverse impact on the physical and mental capacities of the population. Through initiatives that address chronic hunger, such as the School Feeding Program, WFP will help to bring chronic malnutrition below critical levels among children, thereby helping to break the inter-generational cycle of hunger and transforming the entire development dynamic in Karamoja over the long-term.

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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.