The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across West Africa to shutter their doors. These widespread school closures had a deleterious effect on the education and well-being of western Africa’s most vulnerable children. Youth were not only deprived of an education but also a chance to receive a meal through their country’s school feeding program. As schools gradually reopened as COVID-19 rates subsided, school feeding in West Africa provided an avenue for children to receive nutritious food, a commodity that some children only attain through their educational institution.
What is School Feeding?
School feeding refers to a meal provided at a child’s school at no cost to the child’s family. According to the World Bank, it is “most frequently designed as a social protection measure for poor and vulnerable communities with the key outcome being an improvement in education through increased enrolment, reduced absenteeism and enhanced gender equality.”
With a full stomach, school feeding often leads to children’s increased ability to concentrate and learn. Additionally, per the World Food Programme (WFP), “every $1 invested in school meals has a $9 return on investment.” Finally, school feeding provides incentives for families to send girls to school instead of keeping them at home or marrying them off early.
Thus, initiatives to support school feeding in West Africa are crucial because of their remedial effects on the harmful repercussions of school closures. Fortunately, international organizations are partnering with government authorities to provide increased funding and efficacious implementation for school feeding in West Africa. Specifically, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Liberia have benefited from foreign assistance.
Home-Grown School Feeding in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is an impoverished West African nation bordered by Guinea and Liberia. According to the WFP, in 2022, more than 65% of residents living on less than $1.25 per day.
As food prices skyrocket across the nation, school feeding programs remain essential for children and their families. In 2021, the government of Sierra Leone launched an initiative to transition the nation to a home-grown model, according to the WFP. This novel type of school feeding allows local agricultural workers to directly supply schools with fresh produce.
Of note, the WFP is assisting the government by launching a pilot program in the town of Tawuya. The pilot initiative has been a blessing to local female farmers. Adama, a Tawuya resident and mother of seven, told a representative of the organization that the “WFP created a means for us women to earn money regularly.” Overall, the WFP’s intervention in Tawuya has enabled many families to overcome food insecurity.
The McGovern-Dole Program in Senegal
Currently, 751,000 Sengalese citizens are food insecure and 17% of children younger than 5 are malnourished. In response to the food security crisis in Senegal, Counterpart International, an organization focused on establishing enduring relationships with at-risk communities, announced in October 2021, that the nation would be the recipient of a $25 million McGovern-Dole program award. The McGovern-Dole program is an initiative by the United States Department of Agriculture to curtail childhood hunger by providing food and financial assistance to developing nations.
The new initiative seeks to bolster school attendance, literacy and community health through school feeding and enhance the Senegalese government’s ability to implement the program. In a 2021 article in Counterpart International, Brian Dotson, Director of Food Security at Counterpart International, commented “…this project will provide a vital safety net for food-insecure families living in poverty in Senegal…”
Save the Children’s $25 Million Project in Liberia
According to the 2021 Global Hunger Index, Liberia ranks 110th out of 116 countries. In an effort to ameliorate hunger in Liberia, Save the Children launched a $25 million school feeding program on June 2, 2022
The funds from Save the Children will help the Liberian government implement its “Liberia Empowerment Through Attendance, Reading, and Nutrition (LEARN) Project.” Although this is a program implemented by both the government and NGOs, the majority of its funds are supplied through donors. Thus, Save the Children revitalized the LEARN program which has distributed more than 10 million school meals to more than 45,000 Liberian children.
Western African Governments Take the Lead
As these three programs demonstrate, school feeding in West Africa is indispensable. While international organizations have largely funded and implemented these programs, western African governments have also taken action to strengthen school feeding.
According to Brookings, 27 countries from across Africa voiced approval for a United Nations school meals coalition that aims to exceed pre-pandemic school feeding levels. Specifically, President Patrice Talon of Benin and President Macky Sall of Senegal have allocated additional funds for their nation’s respective school-feeding programs. Additionally, the African Union, a collective organization of 55 nations, endorsed home-grown school feeding and marked 2022 as the “Year of Nutrition.”
– Alexander Portner