In Pakistan, “almost 85 percent of the population live on a marginal income of less than US$ 2 per day,” according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Food for Education is a key strategy for helping the impoverished in this nation of over 140 million people, most living in rural areas.
Food for Education programs provide school feeding and also take-home rations for children. This is critical to ending hunger and poverty in any country. Let’s take a closer look at school feeding with Wolfgang Herbinger, the country director for WFP in Pakistan.
How many children benefit from the WFP school feeding programs within the country?
In Pakistan, WFP has been in operation since 1968. Among the many programs WFP implements, the most important is school feeding to primary and pre-primary schoolchildren in the most food-insecure districts across Pakistan. Providing food as an incentive not only helps students meet their daily food requirements, but negates the opportunity costs of sending children to school, especially girls. In this way, it encourages poverty-stricken parents to break down cultural and economic barriers placed on the acquisition of education by their children.
The school feeding program began in 1998 and runs under three different operations. In WFP’s Country Program (2005-2009), school feeding benefits around 400,000 primary school girls in more than 30 districts all over the country. Each girl student attending a minimum of 20 school days receives a monthly “take home” ration of a 4 liter tin of vegetable oil. In areas affected by the devastating 2005 earthquake, the WFP provides mid-morning snacks (high-energy biscuits and dates) to over 115,000 primary school students.
WFP also operates school feeding programs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan, providing fortified biscuits to 88,000 children during classes and a bag of fortified wheat flour as a take-home ration. In addition, given the patriarchal nature of the Tribal Areas, WFP provides vegetable oil to female students as an additional incentive for parents to send their girls to school.
In addition, WFP is addressing the impact of the global food crisis on Pakistan by identifying male and female elementary school students in the worst-affected localities, and providing them with take-home rations of vegetable oil and wheat. WFP’s strong presence at the grassroots level will enable it to effectively implement its food crisis programs.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition.
The provision of biscuits combined with take home rations of edible oil and wheat has had an exceptional impact on attendance and enrollment rates in WFP-supported schools. It is not uncommon to find schools where enrollment and attendance has doubled due to the school feeding program.
Briefly speaking, data trend analysis shows that food has worked well as an incentive in attracting a large number of students to enroll in schools and attend classes. The data trend analysis shows:
i) Enrollment has increased by over 135% in assisted schools;
ii) More than 88% of students in these schools attend classes for at least 20 days per school month.
Promotion and completion rates also are showing positive trends, particularly in those districts where other development partners are helping improve the quality of education. Additionally, the school feeding program in earthquake-affected areas has helped bring children back to school after huge human and infrastructure losses.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
We do not provide school meals per se in Pakistan, but rather focus on providing rations of wheat, vegetable oil, and – under certain program activities – biscuits and dates as midday snacks for children.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program? What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?
Foreign governments and the Government of Pakistan have generously supported WFP’s school feeding program in Pakistan through cash and in-kind contributions.
Concerning the effects of high food prices on the funding situation, the WFP has been fortunate to generate enough funds to provide food assistance to its beneficiaries.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
WFP has well-integrated systems for regularly monitoring the needs of its different programs. This information is shared with all stakeholders and the international community through different websites and reports. The WFP website also provides details on how people can help out in the school feeding program. Private individual and organizational donations, no matter how big or small, are welcome, as they are indispensable to continuing WFP school feeding operations in Pakistan, especially in times of crisis.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?
Education, even in limited forms, provides the key for the poorest individuals to break out of the poverty cycle and overcome the informal economic caste system that limits their quality of life and opportunities. In Pakistan, it is said that only poor parents send their children to Government schools because they do not have to pay tuition fees and other expenses. Hence, the WFP approach of targeting Government schools ultimately serves the poorest of the poor.
By providing an incentive to parents to take their children out of the formal and informal labor markets, deserving children are given a chance to have a better future – one free from hunger.