Many children in São Tomé and Príncipe go to school hungry, often having to walk long distances just to get to class. Located off the Western coast of Africa, São Tomé and Príncipe is described by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) as “both a least developed and low-income, food-deficit country.” School feeding is needed to help children and their families break out of poverty. In this interview with Haladou Salha, WFP country director for São Tomé and Príncipe, we will take a look at the country’s vital school feeding program and how someone can help.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP School feeding programs within the country?
The school feeding component of the Development Project in São Tomé and Príncipe (STP) targets all public primary schools. This includes 19 primary schools and 83 pre-schools and kindergartens located in 6 districts of Sao Tome and in the Principe Autonomous Region. A total of 32,633 children benefited from the WFP School Feeding Program during the 2007/2008 school year. Girls and boys represent 49% and 51% of beneficiaries, respectively. The majority of children are from poor households and must walk long distances to reach schools, often on an empty stomach.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance, and nutrition.
According to teacher feedback, school meals significantly improve school attendance, increase enrollment, and provide motivation for children to go to school. Like most countries where WFP is implementing School Feeding Programs, in São Tomé and Príncipe the drop-out rates have decreased while parents’ willingness to send their kids to school has increased. The overall performance during the 2007/2008 school year has increased as students have better focus than in previous years. There is no doubt that the daily meals provided to children through the school feeding program improve children’s nutritional status.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
As previously mentioned, all public primary schools and kindergartens in São Tomé and Príncipe are covered by the school feeding program. Therefore, all enrolled children are benefiting from meals provided on daily basis. However, there is a need to improve the program by including additional activities. In this regard, WFP, government institutions and NGOs have been discussing ways to diversify the meals, including using local food and developing new recipes. Other initiatives such as introducing efficient cooking and environmentally sound stoves, providing adequate water sources, training on food preparation and hygiene and building school gardens have been considered to ensure regular and continuous assistance. WFP hopes to gradually substitute local food products for imported food commodities to achieve sustainability and phase out its intervention in São Tomé and Príncipe. WFP has also provided technical assistance to the Government of Sao Tome in setting-up a School Feeding Unit within the Ministry of Education in order to sustain the ongoing School Feeding Program.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?
Right now it is important to identify the partnerships needed to ensure a successful handover of the school feeding program to the national government. Identifying resource mobilization options through public and private funding is also important, especially as the country may be an oil exporting country by the end of the current program in 2012. These additional funds will greatly contribute to the efforts made by WFP, cooperating partners and stakeholders. The funds will also help build local capacity and facilitate the handover of the school feeding program to the national government.
What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?
Rising food prices have greatly impacted WFP in general, as well as the school feeding program component. Unlike most countries in the sub region, only 36% of São Tomé and Príncipe’s population is involved in agriculture and the fishing sector. The remaining 64% belongs to the service sector. Most food is imported, with over 85% of the population buying food from markets. Food costs account for 70% of total household expenditures. Speculation and high prices are the principal economic risk factors for food insecurity in São Tomé and Príncipe. Increased prices have forced WFP to purchase most commodities in the international market at very high prices, above what was originally budgeted. Additionally, the school feeding project is not well resourced. Currently, WFP in Sao Tome and Principe has only 43% of the over 7.6 million (US) dollars it needs. WFP in São Tomé and Príncipe is seeking funding from the international community to compensate for this shortfall. Budget shortfalls and frequent pipeline breaks undermine WFP’s efforts to distribute the recommended food rations and meet nutritional need, and may prevent project goals from being achieved.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
WFP in São Tomé and Príncipe welcomes any contributions (in cash or in kind) from individuals and private companies who would like to support the School Feeding Program. Contributions can be made online at www.wfp.org, through our offices in Yaoundé, Dakar, Rome, or in any of WFP liaison offices in Geneva, New York, or Paris. The average cost of providing one meal for a child (including associated expenses such as transport and storage) is on average about 19 US cents, or US$34 a year (with a school year of 180 days). You can help WFP provide a meal for a child in school and give a gift of life, a gift of hope, and an investment for a brighter tomorrow.
Anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?
WFP primarily works with the poorest of the poor. A poor family rarely has enough food to meet all the nutritional needs of its members. School feeding ensures that poor children receive at least one balanced meal a day. This may result in less food for a student at home, but will give a hungry family member the chance to eat, such as a younger sibling too young to attend school. In the end, school feeding helps ensure a balanced meal for a child while increasing the “food basket” of the whole family. In developing countries where the physical and economic access to food has been a chronic problem, the most affected population group has been children who are forced to work for their survival. School feeding is an important way to save children at risk of abuse, oppression, and a life of illiteracy, crime, and homelessness. An uneducated child will be unable to join the workforce, participate in community decision-making, or contribute to the development of their country.