The Gambia: Communities Enrich Children’s Diets Through Home-Grown School Meals

In The Gambia, parents and teachers are building on the World Food Programme’s school meals initiative by growing vegetables to enrich their children’s diets as part of the government-led Home-Grown School Feeding Programme. At Dingirai Lower Basic School, in the Central River region, everyone has pitched in, and the children love the results.

Dingirai – When teachers at Dingirai Lower Basic School realized that their pupils loved the peas they received in their WFP school meals, they decided to cater to these healthy tastes by growing beans. 

During the summer holidays, work began to make sure next term’s school meals would be as varied and nutritious as possible. WFP uses rice, oil, salt and peas to feed 162 children at the school each day, but the children wanted more vegetables, so the community stepped up to help.

Teachers mobilized members of the local Mothers’ Club and the Food Management Community to take part in a farming project on the school grounds that yielded three bags of beans, known as nyebe.

“We realized that children love the peas, but we only serve them once every week. So the school decided to grow beans, which provide a rich source of protein and are similar to peas, both in taste and nutritional value,” said Demba B. K. Cisse, headmaster of the school, which lies around 140 km from the capital, Banjul.

“This way, we will be able to give children what they want more often, and make school meals more nutritious,” he said.

In 2012, WFP, the Food and Agricultural Organization and The Gambia’s Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education established the EU supported Home-Grown School Feeding Programme to promote the use of locally produced foods in school meals. The programme’s slogan -- “Eat what we grow and grow what we eat” -- is derived from a national initiative that seeks to boost local agricultural production. 

”I love peas”

Most of the seeds used in the Dingirai project were donated by Catholic Relief Services. But women from the Mothers’ Club, which organises income-generating activities and also advocates for the education of girls, also donated some seeds of their own -- a sign of their commitment to the initiative. 

“The students spend a lot of time in school so it is important that they eat well. The food also keeps them healthy, and when they are healthy, they stay in school and learn better. We took it upon ourselves to support the school to make sure our children eat nutritious foods every day,” said Jarra Khan, a member of the Mothers’ Club. 

Students at the school, which caters to children aged 4 – 14, have also eagerly participated in the planting and harvesting, keen to enjoy more vegetables. 

“I love Fridays; they serve delicious peas, which are my favourite,” says Khadijatou Jallow, a seven-year-old pupil, dressed in the school’s blue-and-white uniform.

Local ownership

Community participation is an important component of the school feeding programme in The Gambia. Across the world, WFP assists communities to strengthen their abilities to tackle hunger: part of this mission involves training people to be able to manage their own food security, and to cope better with any shocks. 

“Home-grown school feeding succeeds when there is strong commitment from the community. We encourage models that are community-led. It is the key to sustainability,” said Vitoria Ginja, WFP’s Country Director. 

In The Gambia, there are several examples of how communities can build on assistance from WFP through a variety of innovative projects. For example, Panchang Basic Cycle School, also in the Central River region, is using a solar panel, donated by a well-wisher, to charge mobile phones. By charging a small fee for this service, the school was able to buy seeds and tools to allow it to add home-grown vegetables to school meals. 

WFP has been working with the government in The Gambia to provide school meals for over 40 years. Today, around 87,000 students benefit from school meals under the joint Home-Grown School Feeding Programme.