More than 17 percent of primary school-aged population in Guinea is not attending classes, three-quarters of them are girls. The main reasons include cultural beliefs, ignorance and poverty. To encourage parents to send their children to school and address rural poverty, WFP is implementing since 2015 a “Home-Grown School Feeding” pilot in 281 schools in Forest Guinea. Funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), this initiative supports smallholder farmers particularly women to produce rice and fresh vegetables that are locally purchased and supplied to the schools to feed school children in most food insecure areas of the country.
Finding reliable market opportunities has always been challenging for Bernadette Millimouno, a woman farmer in Koundou, a small town in Guinea’s Forest Region. A mother of seven, she grows rice and vegetables for a living.
Convinced that there is strength in unity, the 51-year-old woman joined in 2013 a group of 14 women farmers specialized in producing and selling “parboiled” rice--a nutrient-rich rice partially cooked in its husk before it is dried.
Despite their willingness and ability to produce more parboiled rice, Millimouno and her fellow farmers could hardly sell 10 tons of rice per year. Market opportunities were so limited in the village that the group produced only small quantities for local consumption and for a handful traders from neighboring regions.
Now the market issue is being resolved. Since 2015, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been piloting a Home-Grown School Feeding project thanks to funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Through this initiative, WFP provides farming equipment to farmer cooperatives and trains women farmers on food storage, packaging and transportation. After the rice is grown, harvested, parboiled and certified good for consumption, WFP purchases it to feed school children in areas most affected by food insecurity. To date, 900 tons of parboiled rice have been locally purchased in Forest Guinea
Millimouno and her group who are part of the pilot have already supplied from their village 74 tons of parboiled rice to WFP in less than two years--a record never achieved before. With pay back from this activity some members of the group said they were able to support higher education fees for their children. Millimouno’s elder daughter, Aminata, has recently completed her training in Conakry as a primary school teacher thanks to her mother’s financial support.
“There is nothing more rewarding than feeding our own children with our locally grown food,” Millimouno said. “We hope this partnership with WFP will continue so we can produce more and increase our incomes.”
Like Millimouno, 1,800 women farmers from nine farmer unions participate in the pilot project in Forest Guinea. By linking smallholder farmers to its school meals programme, WFP promotes agricultural development and empowers women. The initiative also contributes to building social safety nets for both school children and smallholder farmers.
For schoolchildren, parboiled rice is very similar to the rice they eat at home. It increases their likelihood of enrolling and staying in schools. Sekou Tolno, Director of Koundou primary school noted that the provision of school meals has had a positive effect on the attendance rates of all students. "But most importantly", he said, "they have reduced the number of girls dropping out of school."
WFP School meals not only contribute to increasing school attendance rate, but also help rural communities cut back on their daily food expenses.
“In the past I used to cook 3 kg of rice per day for the whole family. Now, we cook only half of it because my three younger kids eat their lunch at school and come back home fully satisfied,” Millimouno said. “With the little money saved on food I can buy clothes, pay school fees and health care expenses.”
Overall in Guinea, WFP provides school meals to 277,800 children in 1,600 primary schools thanks to voluntary contributions from Japan, USAID, and the Government of Guinea.