The African nation of Guinea has seen increasing poverty rates in recent years. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reports that “the country’s Forest region has long been host to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone,” which puts a big strain on Guinea’s resources. Guinea is working to provide basic education for all its citizens as a means of combating poverty. The World Food Programme is helping by providing school meals to children. In the following interview with Abdou Dieng, WFP country director in Guinea, we will look at how crucial school feeding is toward breaking the cycle of poverty.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP School Feeding Programs within the country?
WFP Guinea started its school feeding program (SFP) in 2002, initially targeting 54,200 beneficiaries. Since then the program has grown to the level of 213,573 pupils in the 2007/2008 school year. With positive results noted in primary schools assisted through the school feeding program, WFP extended its assistance to additional schools in project areas. The program’s popularity has attracted a greater number of children overall and this seems likely to continue. The assistance is provided for 1,253 schools in three regions: Forest Guinea, Upper and Middle Guinea. Primary school students receive one daily hot meal at noon each day school is in session.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance, and nutrition.
Since its inception, WFP Guinea’s school feeding program has demonstrated great success in increasing school enrollment and attendance rates, especially among female students. Follow-up surveys to the WFP School Feeding Baseline Survey have indicated that girls’ enrollment rates have increased by as much as 12% over the period 2003-2005. Over the same period, enrollment increased from 77,323 to 85,885 for boys and from 57,871 to 67,910 for girls in existing WFP-assisted schools.
Female students in grade 6 with over 80% attendance rates are eligible to receive a take-home ration of vegetable oil each trimester. Take-home rations for girls encourage parents to keep their daughters in school, leading to lower dropout rates. Access to basic education, especially for girls, was promoted in schools targeted by the school feeding program.
By providing school meals at noon, students have an intake of 729 calories, enhancing their ability to retain information. Furthermore, hot meals help to reduce absenteeism. In the course of monitoring visits, parents and teachers reported that pupils no longer leave school in the afternoon and absenteeism due to illness has been drastically reduced.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
WFP is uniquely placed to implement school feeding programs in the most food-insecure areas of the world. In this regard, its first priority is to identify the hungry poor. The agency seeks to determine who is vulnerable, where they live, how many there are, why they are hungry, and the risk factors that could further erode their food security.
In 2003 the first crop and food supply assessment (CFSA) was carried out in Guinea. The assessment is done to provide information on imminent food problems facing a country or region. It focused on social, economic, and food production sectors. Out of the 33 prefectures (precincts) in Guinea, 11 were identified as the most food-insecure regions of the country. These prefectures (precincts), located in Upper and Middle Guinea, were therefore identified as intervention zones under the Country Program. The 11 prefectures (precincts) combined also represent 33% of the country’s territory.
Due to the worsening of socioeconomic conditions, the CFSA was updated in 2005 with a new framework of analysis which examined food access and consumption, coping mechanisms, and nutritional indicators. WFP is currently in the process of finalizing a proposal for funding to enable a new CFSA. Depending on funding availability, the result will determine the need for expansion to other parts of the country.
Furthermore, at the rural district level, schools are selected for the program based on low enrollment, especially for girls, as well as for other infrastructure criteria such as a minimum of two functioning classrooms, a minimum of two schoolteachers and one director on the premises, availability of a warehouse, and kitchen and eating facilities maintained by the community. These conditions are hardly met in most of the schools. This is a major constraint to expansion in all schools.
WFP Guinea plans to work with the organization World Education to use school feeding as a tool to prevent child labor and trafficking. Talks to finalize the specifics of this partnership are currently underway. Such moves will increase the possibility for more children to access school meals.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?
The Country Office will continue ongoing advocacy efforts to mobilize additional funds from non-traditional sources for any possible expansion phase. The school feeding program has benefited from a number of projects that are localized or relative to certain aspects of the education sector. These projects have been supported by multi/bi donors such as the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union, African Development, Japanese Cooperation, and sister UN agencies, to name a few.
What has been the effect of rising food prices on this funding effort?
Interest in the current global food crisis has ensured increased local and national media coverage of WFP’s activities in Guinea, allowing for a better awareness of WFP’s response to the high food prices. WFP’s existing school feeding network has been used as a channel to reach vulnerable children and their families in Middle, Upper and Forest Guinea during the lean season (July-September), which includes the summer holiday period and Ramadan. This means that resources meant for other projects were borrowed for the implementation of the response. The short-term focus of the response to the food crisis will be on food assistance to vulnerable groups and nutritional programs for moderate and severe malnutrition in all prefectures (precincts), which will complement the other WFP interventions.
The government of Guinea launched an appeal to the international community for assistance in creating a buffer stock of 25,000 metric tons of basic food commodities, mainly rice, on a monthly basis for six months. An Emergency Food Aid committee has been set up to implement the program. WFP continues to work in close collaboration with this food crisis committee and the technical cell for coordination, assessment, and follow-up of the food situation in the country. The government’s advocacy efforts have been paying dividends in the form of positive donor response. This is a window of opportunity for additional resources.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
Individuals and other well-wishers can go to WFP’s website and donate online. Businesses, foundations and governments can undertake advocacy events for the program and increase their support for WFP school feeding programs.
WFP promotes school gardens in parallel with its school feeding activities. The school gardens provide a source of fresh produce, which complements the daily hot food ration offered by the school canteen. Gardens may also grow in scope to provide a means to support the school feeding activity with cereals and pulses in the future. Donor support to school gardens in the form of non-food items is essential.
WFP has also implemented fuel-efficient stoves in 410 of its assisted schools. These stoves reduce environmental impact as they consume less fuel and also decrease the workload of the school cooks. Local techniques were used for their implementation, and stoves have been replicated in many households in the targeted communities. This is another area where WFP requires donor support.
Anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?
The school feeding component of the Country Program directly aligns itself with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to achieve universal primary education (MDG 2) and promote gender equality and empower women (MDG 3). Guinea has adopted the framework for action agreed upon at the World Education Forum 2000 in Dakar. By doing so the country reaffirmed its commitment to achieving universal primary education for all by 2015.
In 2002 Guinea embarked on the program entitled Education for All Fast Track Initiative (Programme Education pour Tous, PEPT) involving all educational sub-sectors. The Fast Track Initiative is a multi-donor effort aiming to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education for all boys and girls. Education thus remains a priority sector in Guinea. Though gross primary school enrollment rates have increased from 28% in 1989 to almost 80% in 2007, they are still under the average rate of 85% for all of Sub-Saharan Africa. Families continue to send more boys to school than girls, with the gross enrollment rate of girls at 70% in 2007. There is also a marked difference between rates of gross enrollment in urban areas (81%) and rural areas (51%). Adult literacy for women is only 16%, compared to 44% for men. At the present time, WFP is the only organization implementing large-scale school feeding activities in the country and needs the injection of capital to continue the school feeding program.
WFP also rehabilitates community roads in order to provide enhanced access to assisted schools. In doing so, it also provides access to farmlands, hence addressing food security issues.
Finally, a handover strategy is an integral part of the overall school feeding program in Guinea, and includes approaches and tools to strengthen the capacity of the government to design, finance, and manage the program over time. It also includes assisting the government in deciding on the role and relevance of school feeding within its national hunger reduction strategies. The degree of sustainability achieved by the program by the end of 2012 is expected to depend heavily on Guinea’s socioeconomic and political gains over the next five years.
Although the Government’s budgetary commitment remains relatively low, the evolution of decentralization has allowed the Department of Education to gradually take on more responsibility for the monitoring and evaluation of the activity. WFP has provided significant amounts of training in this area.