During 2008, I interviewed Jacques Roy of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Benin. At that time, WFP's top priority for fighting hunger and poverty in the country was school feeding, and with good reason.
WFP was reaching 70,000 children with school meals and another 35,000 with take-home rations. Roy said, "Over the past two years the enrolment rate has increased by 50% and the dropout rate has declined by 20%. Moreover, children’s overall nutritional levels have improved."
Where does school feeding in Benin stand today? WFP continues to help the government of Benin build its education system and sustainable school feeding. WFP is about to launch a school feeding project that will reach 117,230 primary school children with a daily meal of 721 calories per child per day.
A WFP project document states that the school feeding "will be implemented in 22 districts which are characterized by net enrolment rates below the national average and by high rates of poverty and chronic malnutrition." The meals will serve as an incentive for classroom attendance and increase educational opportunities.
The project will be contingent upon receiving enough funding, a difficult task considering the hunger crisis unfolding in many parts of the globe. If the funding is received, WFP can provide these meals to help children. In addition, progress will continue toward the goal of Benin having its own school feeding program that requires little or no outside assistance.
School feeding in Benin. Photo: WFP/Jean Pierre Cebron
WFP is working toward this by involving the community as much as possible in education about school feeding, as well as handling the operation. Parents are encouraged to contribute fruit and other items to the school feeding programs.
WFP’s goal is to develop local food production that will be the primary supplier for the school meals. This is important because it will invest the community deeper into school feeding as well as provide jobs and income for local residents. WFP also saves money on shipping if food can be purchased locally, and this of course frees up more funding for other food programs in need.
If all goes according to plan, WFP will start handing over more and more of the school feeding program to the government of Benin.
Last week at a conference with members of the media, Josette Sheeran, the WFP director, said that "We need more success stories" in the fight against hunger. If the support is there at this critical juncture, Benin may very well be on its way to completing its own success story.