60,000 students at primary schools and early learning centres in the Gambia will get nutritious food each day that has been grown locally.
How do you get more young children into school and help their communities at the same time?
Simple. Provide nutritious school meals that help students to concentrate on their lessons - and make them with locally-grown food.
It's a win-win solution that's being used in the Gambia by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). More than 120 primary schools and early learning centres will be given funds to provide daily meals for up to 60,000 children.
The food will be bought from local markets and smallholder farmers and served as part of a homegrown school feeding programme implemented in partnership with the Gambian education ministry.
“We want to build a strong foundation in nutritious foods for children at a young age," said Wanja Kaaria, WFP Country Director in the Gambia. "By using cash transfers to the schools, we hope to promote local economic development and serve as a driver for social cohesion.”
The project means the children will eat diversified and nutritious meals - leading to increased enrolment, attendance and fewer students dropping out. Local farmers and businesses will get a predictable market for their products - meaning more investment and jobs created for young people and women in the communities.
The World Food Programme provided meals for over 18 million children at 70,800 schools last year. It implemented or supported school feeding programmes in 71 countries.
A daily school meal is a strong incentive for families to consistently send their children to school. It allows children to focus on their studies rather than their stomachs and helps increase enrolment and attendance, promotes graduation rates and improves cognitive abilities.
Just 25 cents can pay for one school meal, while $50 feeds a child for an entire academic year.
Earlier this year, WFP urged governments in West Africa to invest more money in school meal programmes. It partners on school meals programmes with about 40 countries in Africa, providing daily nutrition to more than nine million schoolchildren.
South Sudanese student Layer Angelo said the WFP programme “keeps us in the schools, makes us vigilant to teachers, gives energy to do our activities happily”.
WFP's Gambia project is funded through contributions from the European Union, South Korea and Ireland and operated in partnership with the education ministry and three Gambian organisations - the Agency for Development of Women and Children, the Agency for Village Support and the Forum for African Women Educationalists The Gambia.
Nutrition is one of the five key areas that children under five need if they are to develop and fulfil their potential.