Between 2001 and 2009, Benin dropped from 153rd to 161st place in the human development index. A third of the population is rated poor while sixteen percent are reported to live in extreme poverty. Out of every 1000 live births, 67 infants die, 37 percent of children under five are stunted and more than 67,000 children suffer from acute malnutrition.
A recent Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) estimates that nearly one million people in the country (twelve percent of the population) are food-insecure. The regions of Zou, Atacora and Plateau show the highest level of severe chronic malnutrition for children under five, each around fifteen percent. Women-headed households, households with a low level of education, and households for which a higher proportion of food consumed is being produced by the household itself or coming from gifts, are the most affected by food insecurity.
Agriculture is the key economic sector in the country, contributing to 33.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and representing 2.7 percent out of the five percent increase in GDP in 2007. Nonetheless, structural problems persist in the agricultural sector, negatively affecting both food security and the trade balance. Average annual production of cassava and maize meets local consumption needs but the pressure of imports from Nigeria and Niger constantly threatens the local cereal supply in the markets. Benin is a net importer of rice from East Asia but the government is trying to boost local production in order to increase its competitiveness despite the strong local currency (FCFA) against the US dollar.
WFP implements development and emergency operations in Benin.
The development programme, which started in 2004, provides formal and non-formal education for children and youth. It aims to support government and community efforts to develop education and promote equality between boys and girls in the poorest and most food-insecure areas of Benin.
The project provides assistance through school meals (canteens and dry rations for girls and their families, as well as food for girls' boarding schools) and through the provision of food to social and charitable institutions, taking care of and training children and youths at risk, especially girls.
The WFP School Feeding programme is currently operating in ten out of twelve regions all over the country, covering 400 schools and more than 85,000 pupils in partnership with government stakeholders. The targeted areas represent the most vulnerable regions in the country as well as the most isolated villages.
WFP is also assisting 48,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in order to improve their nutritional and food security status.
Additionally, given the high food price crisis, WFP is intervening in the northern region of Atacora through so called Blanket Feeding distributions, general food distributions to 100,000 children below five years of age and nursing women. WFP has also assisted farmers through food-for-work activities in the Alibori region in the north, as well as selected low income urban dwellers through food-for-training activities in the south of Benin.