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Promoting nutrition and education in Laos through home grown school meals programme

VIENTIANE – This week, Jocelyn Brown, a Deputy Administrator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), whose office administers USDA international assistance programs, will visit Luang Namtha province, where two USDA projects are currently supporting local schools and farmers. The projects, both funded by USDA’s McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program and the Local and Regional Procurement program, are being implemented together by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

The visit will be an opportunity for Ms. Brown to see how donations of U.S. agricultural commodities are helping provide children in rural Laos with improved tools for literacy and nutritious meals, and how local farmers are being supported and benefitting from the projects.

Since 2006, USDA donations through the McGovern-Dole program have ensured that more than 25 million nutritious meals are served every school year to 145,000 children in schools in 30 districts across seven provinces. 

The daily meals include in-kind USDA commodities, vegetables from the school gardens, and community contributions.  As part of a comprehensive education package, and in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Sports and other partners, children also gain access to clean water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition education, and literacy activities.

The Local and Regional Procurement Program further strengthens school meals by connecting schools to local agricultural production.  Through a partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the school meals project provides extension services to smallholder farmers, particularly women, to increase their production and sell produce directly to the schools, thus complementing children’s daily meals with diversified local, fresh foods.

“Our motto at USDA is: do right and feed everyone.  Through these programs, our partners, and the generosity of the American farmer, we are using our experiences and evidence to help build a more prosperous, secure, and resilient future,” said Ms. Brown.

School meals have been demonstrated in Laos to increase school enrolment, improve nutrition, boost attendance and attentiveness, and support learning. They increase the likelihood for Laotian girls and boys to complete primary education.  Strengthening the capacity of smallholder farmers not only allows them to produce more and better agricultural products and increase income, it also augments community ownership of the school meals projects and paves the way for voluntary community contributions to school lunches. 

“Over the years, U.S. support has been fundamental in increasing children’s access to education and nutrition to learn and thrive,” said WFP’s Country Director in Laos, Sarah Gordon-Gibson. 

“The holistic and multi-sectoral approach is enhancing engagement and sustainability, and building a strong school meals program that the Government and local communities can take over in the future,” she added.

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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.

Follow us on Twitter @SGordonGibson, @WFP_AsiaPacific   

For more information please contact: 
Phouthasinh Khamvongsa, WFP Lao PDR, Tel. (+856-21) 330300 ext.2228