Markos and Elias have received school meals from WFP for the past two years, but the lunch they ate one day in November was special. The food WFP distributed was not shipped from overseas, or even from other countries in the region. For the first time ever, the students enjoyed a meal made from crops grown just a few kilometers from their school - purchased by WFP directly from Ethiopian farmers.
These locally-grown meals are the result of a partnership between WFP’s School Meals programme and its Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative. School Meals promote student enrollment and attendance in chronically food insecure areas of Ethiopia, with a focus on promoting girls’ education. P4P uses WFP’s purchasing power and its expertise in logistics and food quality to offer smallholder farmers opportunities to access agricultural markets, to become competitive players in those markets and thus to improve their lives.
Since 2010, P4P has purchased nearly 55,000 tons of haricot beans and maize for use in all WFP programmes in Ethiopia, generating over US$16 million for Ethiopian smallholders as a result. At Markos and Elias’ school, Hanja Chafa Primary, and others like it, a nutritious P4P-procured porridge made of bean and maize flour, vegetable oil and salt is keeping students full and in school, and putting money in the pockets of Ethiopian smallholder farmers.
“It is very good that the students are eating meals purchased from farmers in our area,” said Hanja Chafa Primary School director, Tomas Woldemichael. “Many parents send their children to school because they know they will get a meal here. Most of the students do not eat beans or any legumes at home, so at first a few were not used to the taste of the porridge, but over time they have started to like it. We are also educating them on nutrition, so that they will not only like the taste, but also appreciate what good nutrition can do for their minds and bodies.”
Although WFP has bought food locally for many years, P4P particularly supports smallholders, who typically tend to less than two hectares of land and make up 70 percent of Ethiopia’s labor force. P4P’s locally procured food is currently being used for WFP school meals in 37 pilot schools in Ethiopia's Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR).
One smallholder farming family from the outskirts of Hanja Chafa town explained how P4P has changed their lives in the short two years since its start. Spouses Ermias and Chento Bonge tend to a plot of less than half of one hectare. Prior to participating in P4P, they had limited access to markets to sell their crops.
“When we managed to sell our crops, we would get a low price for them,” Ermias recalled.
Then, two years ago, Ermias and Chento joined a primary cooperative for smallholder farmers. The larger cooperative union to which their primary cooperative belongs signed an agreement with WFP, and as a result, Ermias, Chento and hundreds of other smallholder farmers became P4P participants. In 2012, 33,000 smallholder farmers represented by 17 cooperative unions participated in P4P. By the end of 2013, 34,000 additional farmers will have joined.
As part of the programme, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) provided Ermias and Chento with a high yielding, drought resistant variety of haricot bean seeds, which they grow and sell both to WFP and elsewhere. The family’s greater income due to market access and having WFP as a reliable buyer encourages them to increase their crop production, and allows them to provide for their six children.
“P4P is empowering tens of thousands of rural poor to increase their incomes and create better lives for themselves,” explained WFP Ethiopia Country Director Abdou Dieng. “Better access to markets means that smallholders can produce more and better crops and get good prices for their yield. This is truly life-changing."
“Providing food-insecure schoolchildren with meals grown within their own country is extremely important,” Dieng added. “With some technical support from P4P and its partners, Ethiopia is feeding itself.”
At Hanja Chafa Primary, Markos explained, “the only food I get at home is kita (a thin bread). It is not enough to make me full for the whole day.” Then, he added with a smile, “I am happy to eat at school.”
Meselech, a classmate of Markos, chimed in: “And it tastes great!”
This article was written by Ida Girma. Ida is a Fellow based in the WFP Ethiopia Country Office.