West African nations urged to invest more in school meals to keep children in education

World Food Programme 3
The World Food Programme (WFP) partners on school meals programmes with about 40 countries in Africa, (WFP)

Education in emergencies, Girls' education, Refugees and internally displaced people

Getting a decent meal at home is something most of us take for granted. But in many developing countries poor families can’t afford to feed their children nourishing food.

So a daily school meal can make all the difference. It can help students to concentrate in class and prevent hungry children from dropping out of education.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) partners on school meals programmes with about 40 countries in Africa, providing daily nutrition to more than nine million schoolchildren.

A daily school meal is a strong incentive for families to consistently send their children to school. Just 25 cents can pay for one school meal, while $50 feeds a child for an entire academic year. 

The WFP has urged governments in West Africa to invest more money in school meal programmes. Increasingly, school meals in Africa are sourced from smallholder farmers within the community. 

World Food Programme 1

A nutritious meal helps children to concentrate on their studies instead of being hungry (WFP)

“It is a win-win opportunity which governments must seize,” said Abdou Dieng, WFP Regional Director for West and Central Africa. 

“Children enjoy healthy meals that make it more likely that they will stay in school and learn for a better future while jobs are created and businesses develop.”

WFP’s schools meals

In 2016, WFP directly provided school meals to
16.4 million children in 60 countries and 76,000 schools – 1.7 million of them in emergency situations. 

WFP also provided technical assistance to government-led programmes in 60 countries, supporting another 45 million children.

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”.

But there are fears that cuts in food rations to 1.5 million refugees in east Africa, due to funding shortages, could increase school dropouts.

The many humanitarian crises globally mean donors are prioritising aid in Syria, Yemen and Bangladesh, said Peter Smerdon, WFP’s east Africa spokesman.

That means refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda – who fled drought in the Horn of Africa and protracted conflict in Somalia and South Sudan – have had rations cut by almost a third in seven months.

“If you cut a refugee family’s rations, they will take their kids out of school to save money on costs such as uniforms and books, and send them out to either find food or work,” said Smerdon.

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