Kasca stresses that WFP will remain a partner in school meals long after the government has taken over in every district. Today, the parties are collaborating in a comprehensive upgrade of physical and human resources for school feeding in Nuwakot district. Kitchens are being renovated, menus developed and an SMS-based system tested to monitor how the Rs15 allocation is spent.
“Our plan in the next five years will be to try to replicate (the upgrade) around the country,” says Kasca. “If we only do it in Nuwakot it’s not going to automatically happen elsewhere. We need to do it in many more places to start gaining momentum.”
He adds: “One of our priorities will be that, and we will be approaching donors to help out.”
Feed a student, nourish a family
The school meal program was never just about food, the theory being that students learn better on full stomachs so that feeding them would also improve their learning. Today an additional aim of the program is boosting local growers and the economy.
‘School feeding programmes that are connected to the local purchase of food (commonly known as home-grown school feeding programmes, HGSF) have proven their worth in middle-income countries,’ says WFP’s report, State of School Feeding Worldwide, 2020.
‘The largest school feeding programmes in the world all rely on locally sourced food, which helps create jobs, make markets more predictable and helps establish lifelong dietary preferences for locally available fresh foods,’ the report continues. ‘There is a need to help low-income countries scale-up home-grown school feeding efforts as key elements of their national programmes.’
In recent years, the Nepal government, working with WFP, has been experimenting with HGSF in various districts. It started in 2017 in Sindhupalchok and Bardia, then expanded to Nuwakot, Jumla, Dhanusha and Mahottari, in one or two municipalities in each place.
One analysis found that HGSF ‘increased the frequency of meal provision and meal quality in terms of dietary diversity and nutrient content.’ But rolling out the approach would require a 20%-33% increase in the Rs15 allocation to pay for non-food costs like fuel, transport and a cook, it added.
The most concrete result of the pilots has been the creation of 10 regional menus, to correspond with the foods available, and local tastes, in various parts of the country. “For now, when the government says homegrown school feeding program, it’s basically the scale-up of these menus,” says WFP School Meals Program Manager Neera Sharma.
“Each school will select six menus for six days and based on that menu’s ingredients they will calculate how much is required on a monthly or annual basis and do an agreement with the local farmers or cooperatives to sell those products in that school so the money will remain in the community itself,” she adds.
Officials in Tokha Municipality in the Kathmandu Valley recently told WFP-Nepal staff that they would like to link school feeding to local agriculture but are waiting for the central government to issue legal guidelines. Yet other localities are going ahead and planting seeds without an official policy.