The World Food Program (WFP) and the Government of Liberia (GoL), along with other partners, continue to demonstrate commitment by providing nutritious and locally produced rice to school children. This is evidenced by some 20,000 students in 62 public schools in Nimba County, who are currently enjoying the daily rice produced by local farmers.
The rice is being purchased by WFP as part of plans to directly support smallholder farmers, in order to boost production, improve school children’s nutrition and education status as well as develop social and productive safety nets.
Recently, a high-powered WFP-Liberia team headed by its deputy country director, Asif Bhutto, visited two schools in Nimba County where WFP and partners are also implementing the school feeding program.
Bhutto, who spoke to students and school administrators, said that WFP is pleased to support the school meals program with food commodities bought from local farmers as a way of supporting them to produce more food instead of buying the food from overseas.
He said the organization’s activities throughout the country are in line with the government’s development plan as articulated in the Pro-Poor Agenda.
Under its Home-Grown School Feeding Program, the WFP, in collaboration with the ministries of Education and Agriculture, buy rice, cassava, eddoes, potatoes, vegetables, and palm oil from smallholder farmers in the country and then supply these to selected schools.
The Home-Grown School Meals Program – known for its integrated agriculture, nutrition, education and social safety net approaches – is a WFP and Government of Liberia’s innovative and multifaceted development effort, which benefits both the food security and education sectors through the production of nutritious food commodities for use in school feeding.
School administrators are lauding the effort as “extremely wonderful and good for improving education.” Principal Joseph S. Adjei of Liberia National Red Cross High School in Saclepea could not hold back his admiration for the home-grown school meals program. “We have changed from vegetable oil to palm oil and to country rice and eddoes – you name it – and the students love it,” he said.
Mr. Adjei outlined the immediate benefits of the new meals program in his school. “Right now we have 560 students. When we started in September, it was less than that but when the feeding started in October, the news spread and more students came,” he said.
WFP-supported Community Grain Reserves (CGR) in Nimba County are also supporting the school meals program by selling local rice and beans to WFP. CGR are owned and managed by rural women farmer groups that WFP trained and provided with initial amounts of milled rice for use as loan to other farmers and community residents during the peak of the hunger season.
Sampson Toko, secretary-general of the Gleyeekwa-doo (the residents of Gelyee are one) farmers group in Bunadin, said their CGR was milling at least 300 bags of 25kg rice for sale to WFP. “We are providing WFP school feeding people with rice, beans and red oil that we ourselves produced. We are going to produce more, because there is market to buy from us. One year from now we will increase our paddy rice production field from six to eight hectares.”
Up to 2017, WFP, in collaboration with authorities of the Ministry of Education, provided daily school meals to over 120,000 students in 577 rural public primary schools in nine counties.
Additionally, over 4,000 school-going girls received monthly rations of rice and oil under the WFP Girls take-home rations, which is aimed at boosting girls’ enrollment, attendance and retention. The support was provided in areas where girl child enrollment was noticeably low as compared to boys.
In late 2017, WFP experienced huge financial constraints that forced the organization to suspend school meals program in early 2018. The resumption of school meals program in October 2018 was made possible through a multilateral donor support.