Thursday , April 18 2024
Because of poverty, only 48% of children in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso go to school, and the situation is even worse for girls.

Interview with Olga Keita, World Food Programme Deputy Country Director for Burkina Faso

Located in West Africa, Burkina Faso is classified as both a least-developed country, and a low-income and food-deficit country. More than 45% of the population lives below the poverty line. Very food-insecure, with high rates of both chronic and acute malnutrition (respectively 34.6% and 23.1%), the country is subject to recurrent drought, which results in cereal shortfall. The enrollment rate in primary school is one of the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2007 Human Development Report ranked Burkina Faso 176th out of 177 countries.

United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) assistance reaches an average of 450,000 beneficiaries per year in 25 provinces characterized by structural food insecurity, high rates of chronic malnutrition, low school enrollment, low literacy, and low attendance at health centers.

WFP school feeding provides meals to rural primary school children located in the arid Sahel Region of Burkina Faso. This region is the most food-insecure part of the country, with low yields and cereal production that sometimes covers only 50% of the population's needs. The climate is also a challenge, with a rainy season that lasts just three months and temperatures that range from 10° C in December to more than 43° C in March and April. School Gross Enrollment in the Sahel region is the lowest in the country (48.8% vs. 72.5%), with a high gender disparity, especially at the beginning of WFP’s school feeding program in 2003.

How many children are benefiting from WFP School Feeding programs within the country?

WFP’s school feeding program started in 2003/2004, with 234 schools and 30,000 pupils. During the current school year (2008/2009), this assistance will cover 86,187 pupils (40,823 are girls: 47.4%) in 590 schools across the four provinces of the Sahel Region (Oudalan, Seno, Soum and Yagha). Out of these, a total of 7,729 girls receive a monthly “take-home” ration to encourage regular attendance. In addition, 2,360 mothers receive dry rations for their participation in a program designed to sensitize women in support of girls’ school enrollment (the literacy rate for young women from 14 to 24 currently stands at 24.7 %), while about 1,200 women (cooks) also receive hot meals. In all, 89,747 people benefit from the program.

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

Increase in Enrollment, Attendance Retention and Completion, and Reduction of Gender Disparity

For a family suffering from hunger and malnutrition, sending children to school is not assigned the same priority as the family’s food subsistence. School feeding programs encourage families to send children to school, especially in situations of food shortage and dire poverty. By improving nutrition and health status, children can attend school on a regular basis – improving attendance, retention and completion rates. Statistics show that the admission rate increased from 50.5% in 2003/4 – the first year of the program – to 69.7% in 2008, while the gross rate of enrollment also increased from 21.8% to 48.8% over the same period.

From a very young age, children, particularly girls, usually work in the house and support their mothers in consuming household chores. Girls are expected to fulfill their traditional role full-time. Unfortunately, these girls have little time left for school. The monthly take-home ration of 10 kg of local cereals is given to girls who have a good attendance rate. This encourages families to send their girls to school, and also lowers drop-out rates for early marriage, which are high throughout the region. The school feeding program thus far has demonstrated a tremendous positive impact on girls: the female admission rate climbed from 22.1% in 2003/4 to 69.4% in 2008. The ratio of girls to boys newly enrolled at school has also improved, increasing from 84.8% in 2003/4 to 96.6% in 2008.

Alleviation of Short-Term Hunger

The porridge (blended flour) at breakfast – given in addition to lunch – improves concentration and learning capacity and help keeps children coming to school on time.

Health and Nutrition Status Improvement

School feeding programs provide macronutrients as well as essential micronutrients, enabling children to learn, function, and develop physically and intellectually. Two meals given to them at school allow their parents to save money to improve the entire family’s nutritional status in this food-insecure region of Burkina Faso, where agricultural production is low and people are obliged to purchase food to satisfy their dietary needs.

Prevention of Child Labor

School feeding is also a powerful incentive encouraging families to send children to school, rather than having them work at home or going outside to earn additional income. A Head of School in Dori tells us that food provided at school helps keep children at school rather then going to work in area gold-mining enterprises.

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

The promise of at least one nutritious meal each day attracts children to school, boosts enrollment, promotes regular attendance, and enhances students' performance. Unfortunately, limited resources do not allow WFP to reach all schoolchildren country-wide. Only four provinces out of 45 are covered by WFP school feeding programs. Catholic Relief Services and the government also cover some provinces.

In the four provinces of the WFP project, breakfast and lunch are cooked by women from the village. They are members of a management committee which also includes a teacher, two pupils, and members of parents’ associations. The committee is in charge of the overall management of the school feeding activities to ensure meals are available on schedule for the children.

What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?

WFP will continue to fund school feeding programs through the support of international voluntary contributions. We would also welcome the attention of all technical and financial partners, both national and international, to finance and expand this very successful program. For sustainability, we also need financial commitment and established budget lines from the government.

What has been the effect of rising food prices on this funding effort?

The rising prices of basic products has drastically reduced the purchasing power of both WFP and the population of Burkina Faso. The number of children in rural areas suffering from malnutrition is growing over the years, particularly in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, which has again this year been hit with a significant deficit of cereal production (impacting the school feeding program there). Most people in the country have significantly reduced the quality and the number of meals per day. Child labor is also on the rise again, as are school drop-out rates.

School meals and take-home rations for girls therefore take on added significance and importance in this current context of rising food prices, especially for cereals. School feeding can greatly help families cope with the impact of the global food crisis.

The vicious circle of poverty, hunger, and illiteracy must be broken in order to achieve the first objective of UN Millennium Development Goals, and achieve equitable and sustainable development.

The prices of basic staples are at record highs. According to a recent study conducted by GTZ, between January 2007 and February 2008 "the prices of sorghum and maize have increased respectively by 24% and 44%. During the same period, the price of local rice has increased much more than the price of imported rice: 27% vs. 16%."

How can someone help the school feeding program?

Everyone can help by providing regular contributions to this program. Reaching the First Millennium Goal of reducing hunger is a challenge that requires a global effort at all levels: leaders, parliamentarians, businessmen, NGOs, national institutions, international companies, professional and civil associations. Just 25 cents a day feeds a child at school. Donations can be made through the WFP website by everyone interested in supporting WFP's efforts.

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

Despite the fact that school feeding programs provide daily meals to all children attending rural schools in four provinces of the Sahel region, the attendance rate remains the lowest in the country. Because of poverty, only 48% of children go to school, and the situation is worse for girls. Much more remains to be done – especially for girls. In addition, the United Nations Millennium Project recommended that school feeding be expanded to reach all children in hunger hotspots using locally produced foods. Through its local purchases, school feeding programs also promote sustainable development solutions by supporting reliable markets for small farmers and local producers, and helping them access markets.

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.

Check Also

Sunrise, Sunset, and the Burning Bush

The other day, we observed the winter solstice. The day with the fewest hours of …