In the poorest and most food insecure districts of Rwanda school meals are a lifeline for many families. A daily school meal provides a strong incentive to send children to school and keep them there (especially girls), it helps to increase school enrolment and attendance, decrease drop-out rates, and improve learning.
The United Nations in Rwanda through World Food Programme (UNWFP), in partnership with World Vision, is now increasing the impact of school meals thanks to a generous contribution of USD 25 million from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Programme.
The new home grown school feeding programme involves schools buying food directly from local farmers and traders in the area. The programme supports access to education while also stimulating local economic development (including agricultural production), increasing farmers’ income and creating additional jobs for a wide range of stakeholders involved in getting the food from the field to the classroom.
This essential grant has enabled UNWFP to buy maize and beans locally, supporting 31 farmer organisations to increase their supply of food to schools and earn a living. UNWFP is providing a daily hot lunch composed of maize, beans, vegetable oil and salt to 40,000 children in 49 schools in Nyamagabe and Nyaraguru in Southern Rwanda, while hot porridge made of highly nutritious fortified food is provided to 43,000 children in 55 schools in Rutsiro and Karongi in the West of the country.
Sylvania Nyiransabimana, 16, is studying at Sanza primary school in Karongi district. Her mother is a single parent, caring for her and her four siblings. Sylvania had dropped out of school to help her mother earn money through casual labour work. Thanks to the home-grown school feeding programme, she was able to re-join the school and is committed to continue school to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher.
Everyone has a role to play
Through the home-grown school feeding approach, UNWFP intends to see schools graduate from external support to self-sustainability. Empowerment of the local community is key to ensure gradual ownership as the community becomes more resilient and self-reliant. Members of the community share responsibility of the school meals by providing firewood, water, utensils and working as volunteer cooks. WFP works closely with the Government of Rwanda towards a nationally owned school feeding programme in 2020, and advocating for school feeding infrastructure to be included into national standards.
The targeted districts of Nyamagabe, Nyaruguru, Rutsiro and Karongi were selected based on their high levels of food insecurity at the household level above 30 percent compared to 18 percent at the National level. School feeding is an important element of national social protection systems, and – along with other safety nets – an integral part of care for the most vulnerable. School feeding programmes motivate development by functioning as a safety net to help vulnerable households and communities survive difficult times and shocks without compromising their nutrition and food security. Educated and healthy people are better able to withstand shocks such as drought. The school lunch accounts for more than half the attained recommended daily allowances of energy, protein, Vitamin A, iron, and iodine for about 40 percent of students, and is often the largest meal of the day and in frequent cases the only meal.
Despite only starting in August this year, teachers are already crediting the home-grown school feeding programme for increased concentration in class and improved attendance rates. Global studies have shown that children who receive extra years of schooling in addition to accessing proper nutrients will greatly increase their chances of employment and of earning more over their lifetime.
The government’s school feeding policy envisages a school feeding programme based on local purchase of commodities with a view to eventual nationwide implementation without external support. Best practices and lessons learned from the project will be documented and used to support this vision. A sustainable school feeding programme that incorporates nutritious and diet diverse meals linked to smallholder farmer production is a key strategy for the achievement of the Zero Hunger Challenge and the SDGs.
Author: John Paul Sesonga
JohnPaul, a former journalist, has been working for WFP since 2010 as communications and reporting officer. He deals with communications and reporting at WFP Rwanda.