The country of Mali in West Africa has an estimated 69 percent of its population living below the poverty line. As part of its strategy for helping the children of Mali, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) runs school feeding programs. This Food for Education initiative is the topic of the following interview with Abou Guindo, WFP school feeding program officer in Mali.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP School feeding programs within the country?
During the 2007-2008 school year the WFP school feeding campaign in Mali reached 108,524 children in 712 schools. WFP determines the recipient schools, all located in food insecure areas, through a survey: the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance, and nutrition.
The school feeding program in Mali has a very good effect on the children when we consider both the educational indicators and the improved nutrition of children. The latest school feeding survey, conducted in 2007, shows that enrollment increased 30% in the assisted schools. In some areas, the increase goes up to 100%. The fact that WFP, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, offers a daily meal to all the children in the targeted school encourages parents to let their children attend school classes regularly. This is especially true for girls in grades 5 and 6, who receive 8 liters of vegetable oil each quarter as an incentive for regular attendance. Parents are very sensitive to this kind of support because it helps to contribute to the household budget.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
The current program offers a daily meal for all children in a targeted school. That means every child in the 712 assisted schools will not face hunger during the school hours, no matter his or her age, gender, or grade. However, WFP is covering only 7% of school-age children. If WFP or the Government had more resources, more children could be fed in school. According to Government statistics, there are 2.6 million school-age children in food insecure regions in Mali.
This is why the evaluation of the last country program (in October 2006) strongly recommended defining a school feeding policy in order to better coordinate interventions and advocate for more resources. In January 2008, the Ministry of Education (MoE) organized a National School Feeding Forum to raise public awareness and seek support from stakeholders. This forum was chaired by the Prime Minister with the participation of all actors who intervene in the sector, plus participants from neighboring countries, and provided an opportunity to define a framework for a national school feeding program in Mali.
The policy defines ways to mobilize more resources. It also indicates that the School Feeding Program in Mali will be coordinated by a team within the office of the Minister of Education. Further, the school feeding program will give priority to schools where children have to travel more than two miles daily to get to school.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?
As mentioned earlier, WFP is working very closely with the Government for the expansion of the school feeding program in Mali, and the main source of funding is the Government itself through the national budget. A significant budget will be earmarked each year by the Ministry of Education to help children in disadvantaged areas to go to school; this amount will also be used for coordinating the program. The second source will be the community which will benefit from WFP’s assistance, who will contribute from their harvest. The program will also receive donations from foundations and private institutions, which are becoming more and more involved; they have shown interest in financing complementary activities such as latrines, school gardens, and fuel-saving stoves, in order to provide to children what WFP and UNICEF define jointly as an “Essential Learning Package.” There is also the McGovern-Dole contribution, and fundraising/awareness events.
What has been the effect of high food prices on this funding effort?
With the exception of cereals purchased locally in Mali, the other foods, including vegetable oil and legumes, are purchased on the international market and shipped to Mali, a vast landlocked country. The prices for these commodities have increased significantly since last year when the project was approved for five years. For example, a metric ton of vegetables which used to cost $1,160 USD in June 2007, now costs $1,900 USD. A budget revision was done and will help to mobilize resources to cover these additional costs; if not it will be difficult for the country office to meet its obligation to feed the number of children planned with the full rations.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
It’s easy and very simple. Everyone can be a part of this program, this is particularly important because we are covering only 7 percent of school-age children. If we had more resources we could do more. Anyone can make a secure donation online by “Filling the Cup” on the WFP website through a credit or debit card. Small contributions can also be made directly to the country office in Mali to help carry out non-food activities under the Essential Learning Package (build latrines, water points, etc…). This is to ensure a complete package is offered to the children to complement the meals provided to them.
Anything else you'd like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?
In Mali, school feeding is a very useful program that helps keep children in disadvantaged areas in the educational system. In some areas, the reality is simple: “No food, no school” – because the parents are looking for ways to survive. But anyone, from anywhere, can help keep a child in school and out of hunger by helping WFP to "Fill the Cup."