I recently received a fellowship to report about nutrition and chose to focus on school feeding, mainly in Nepal (links below).
About five years ago the government decided to invest heavily in the programme and in the following four years its investment in school meals almost quadrupled.
Government-run by 2024
For decades, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing school meals to kids in the poorest parts of the country and slowly the government started running its own programme in other districts. Today, WFP is feeding kids at school in just six districts, with half of the cost paid by the government. By 2024, the ministry of education will be running the operation country-wide.
I have no doubt that the programme can be effective. Although the schools I visited were obviously chosen so I would see positive examples and don’t represent the reality across Nepal, I believe that most parents, teachers and local governments (who transfer the money from the central government to the schools) are committed to making it work.
I believe that most parents, teachers and local governments are committed to making it work.
Yes, no doubt there is corruption — abetted by the fact that officials in Kathmandu have not yet provided programme guidelines — but I choose to believe it happens in a small minority of cases.
That said, the challenges are immense. The government provides just 15 rupees (0.12 $US) per child per meal to prepare food that must meet daily nutrition needs, an amount that WFP Nepal affirms is adequate (for the food only, but perhaps insufficient to cover associated transport, cooking, and equipment costs). But one NGO in Kathmandu that is feeding kids in schools in two municipalities says it’s actually spending 30 rupees per meal, albeit to cover all of its costs.
Sourcing ingredients locally
The central government has also committed to what’s known as homegrown school feeding. This approach stipulates that schools should source their food from local farmers. I saw this working in Kailali district, in the fertile western plains region, in part thanks to assistance from WFP. But in some hill and mountain areas this just won’t be possible because of seasonal constraints. How will the programme compensate for this?
WFP Nepal says it’s committed to working with the government after 2024, including to approach donors for funding. Such multilateral assistance will be key if the programme is to succeed. Just as important will be effective management, including monitoring, from the government.