SIEM REAP – Experts from six Southeast Asian nations have met in Cambodia under the coordination of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to talk about how best to provide school meals for students in their countries.
Participants from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste met for three days to exchange views with peers from neighbouring countries and to engage in discussion with WFP technical staff.
The meeting was opened on Tuesday 11 July by H.E. Dr. Hang Chuon Naron,
Minister of Education, Youth and Sport of Cambodia, who explained the importance of school meals in Cambodia: “We consider the School Feeding Program as a crucial program that promotes equitable access to quality education for children in poor communities and enables them to continue their education into upper levels. The program has helped to achieve Cambodia’s National Education Goals and National Sustainable Development.”
School meals encourage children to attend school and can improve their learning and health by providing nutritious food. WFP is the world’s largest provider of school meals, reaching more than 16 million children globally last year. In Cambodia, the WFP School Feeding Programme includes school meals and scholarships (cash or food entitlements granted as conditional transfers to children with at least 80 percent attendance) and supports universal access to primary education and promotes increased attendance and retention. The programme has been implemented in Cambodia since 1999.
The school meals programme provides a daily nutritious breakfast to 300,000 pre-primary and primary school to Cambodian children in 1,260 primary schools across nine provinces while scholarships that grant cash or take-home rice entitlements as conditional transfers to children from marginalized families in grades four to six with at least 80 percent attendance reach 26,400 students in five provinces.
On Wednesday 12 July, participants visited school meals activities in Siem Reap province. While WFP had initially established school meals in Cambodia by using food provided by foreign donors (most notably the United States), WFP and Cambodia have been working in recent years to transition the initiative to become a community-managed, sustainable programme that uses locally grown ingredients.
The Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF) in which local farmers and suppliers sell their produce to nearby schools has been scaled to 84 schools in the current school year 2016-17; the programme is implemented in 4 provinces in Cambodia and serves 17,200 children. The HGSF model creates business opportunities for local small-scale farmers as they provide fresh produce for school meals. The HGSF model links school feeding to agricultural development, thereby improving education and nutrition while also catalyzing local economic growth.
WFP is working with the Royal Government to establish a nationally-owned school feeding programme by 2020. In 2013, significant responsibilities for implementing food scholarships were handed over to Government. A Road Map for starting a national school feeding programme was signed in May 2015.
The Southeast Asian School Feeding meeting concluded on Thursday 13 July with a declaration from all participants pledging to continue working together to strengthen school meals in their respective countries. On Friday 14 July, WFP Cambodia and the Ministry of Education hosted an additional meeting with participants from the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Women's Affairs, Ministry of Health, and delegates from the Provincial Governor’s office to discuss inter-sectoral collaboration and define a sustainable strategy for the school feeding programme, looking at options and actions needed to gradually move school feeding towards national ownership.
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WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.
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