about the author
Martin Penner, a former journalist, has worked for WFP since 2008.
The launch of a school feeding programme in a poor district of Western Nepal has successfully channeled nutritious food to families struggling with high food prices while at the same time raised the number of students -- especially girls – getting primary education.
SALYAN – It is spring time and the children of Shiva Primary School sit in the compound attending outdoor classes. Over 160 pupils come from villages around and some walk up to 10 kilometers every day in order to be there.
WFP started its school feeding programme here in November 2008, distributing food to all children during lunch break. In January, it also started to distribute two liters of cooking oil each month to girl students who attend classes at least 80 percent of the time.
“The programme has become an incentive for children to come to school as they receive nutritious meal each day which improves their concentration,” says the head teacher, Bhakta Bahadur Shahi.
More girls at school
But the remarkable thing -- in a community where girls are often kept at home to do household chores and parents rather send their sons to school -- is the effect of school feeding on the number of girls making the daily trip.
“There are more girls than boys in the school,” the head teacher says.
The programme is a lifeline for families in Salyan. It is one of the poorest districts of Nepal and was caught up in a decade of conflict between government forces and armed insurgents.
Most of the students’ families face economic difficulties. A lack of jobs makes it difficult for parents to find alternative sources of income when recurring droughts devastate harvests. Meanwhile, prices for key food commodities have increased in the past 18 months by 20 to 40 percent. Children have to skip a meal or reduce their food intake.
Eight-year-old Sunita clutches her mother’s saree and says: “It is better to attend school. At least we get oil, and that way I’m helping at home, when father is away”.
Her mother, Ganga, is also happy. “At times like this, when prices for cooking oil have increased from 90 Rupees to 150 Rupees per liter, the oil Sunita brings helps me save money for things like medicine.”
Nepal has already seen a remarkable increase in primary school attendance over the years, with an 84 percent attendance of girls since the 1980s. This is line with the Millennium Development Goal to achieve universal primary education. Programmes such as school feeding contribute to this and other MDGs.