Joint Press Conference by Ministry of Education and World Food Programme

10 Jul 2013

Joint Press Conference by Ministry of Education and World Food Programme

Liberia Launches National School Feeding Policy 10 July 2013

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s Press Briefing by Hon. Tokunboh E. Lawrence, Assistant Minister for Basic and Secondary Education, and Mme. Adama Diop-Faye, Country Director of World Food Programme. 

Host: Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson.

Mr. Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson

Good morning everybody. My name is Aleem Siddique and I am the UNMIL Spokesperson, and a very special warm welcome to all of our listeners on UNMIL Radio who are joining us for this live press conference from UNMIL’s Headquarters in Monrovia. We’re very pleased to be joined today by Liberia’s Assistant Minister for Basic and Secondary Education, the Honourable Tokunboh E. Lawrence, and also by the World Food Programme’s Country Director for Liberia, Madame Adama Diop-Faye. Our guests today will speak on the launch of Liberia’s first school feeding policy after which we’ll be happy to take some brief questions from the journalists gathered here today in Monrovia. So thank you very much and without further ado, can I introduce firstly, the Minister of Education for Basic and Secondary Education, the Honourable Tokunboh E. Lawrence. Thank you, Minister, for joining us this morning.

Hon. Tokunboh E. Lawrence, Assistant Minister for Basic and Secondary Education

Thank you for welcoming me. Good morning. As he rightly said, I am Tokunboh E. Lawrence, Assistant Minister for Basic and Secondary Education and I’m representing the Minister of Education, Etmonia David Tarpeh.

School feeding is done out of the school, that’s why it’s called school feeding. And because it falls in the schools that I have direct supervision over, that’s why I’m here. We now have the first national school feeding policy in the history of Liberia, which will be launched tomorrow at the City Hall, and this is very important.

School feeding in Liberia started initially in 1968, way in the late 60’s, where we had a lot of food provided by the US Agriculture Department.  In the 70s, we had the World Food Programme on board. Since then, we have been doing school feeding in collaboration with other partners. We have come to the place now that we are going to expand the school feeding, and with the decentralization policy, we want to get everybody involved in the country, all of our stakeholders which include government ministries and agencies. We have, of course, Education, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Internal Affairs. We also have World Food Programme. We also have other partners like Mary’s Meals and we also have the IRD, the International Relief for Development. World Food Programme is in thirteen counties and IRD in two counties and Mary’s Meals in two counties.

So this is a good programme because we have our communities and our PTA and all these partners are going to come together after the launch. They are already operating but we will have one uniform policy and so the collaboration is very important. And I’m glad that we are here today to give as much information to the public as we move ahead for the betterment of our educational programme and the children of Liberia. Thank you.

Mr. Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson

Thank you Minister, if I could just hand over to Mme. Adama from the World Food Programme for some brief remarks.

Mme. Adama Diop-Faye, Country Director of World Food Programme

Thank you very much, and thank you Mrs. Minister for the speech that you just presented. We would like to really insist on the fact that this is a very big milestone for the Government of Liberia because as you know the school feeding programme has been on for quite a while with the support of WFP, but having a policy now means a lot to the country and to all the actors in the field of school feeding because it paves the way to a framework actually that will help to harmonize our interventions. It will also show to donors how much school feeding is important for the Government of Liberia. And in the school feeding policy, you will see that there is a lot of guidance, the roles of all the actors, starting from people in the Ministry of Health passing through all the actors and all the other ministries also. Because you would wonder what the Ministry of Health is doing in a school feeding policy, but before starting a school feeding programme in a school there are some conditions that need to be fulfilled by that school, like ensuring that we have safe drinking water in that school, that children have a deworming programme, they are provided with deworming tablets, that the school has access to latrines also. All water and sanitation facilitates need to be in a school and most of the time they are provided by the Ministry of Health and other supporting ministries.

We are also trying to develop capacity in agriculture by opening some school gardens in schools, not only to supplement the food that we are providing and help the diet to be diversified, but at the same time to create interest amongst children in agriculture because we know that not many people are involved into the agriculture sector and the food production is only 30 per cent of the food requirement in this country. So you want at the childhood level already to grow some interest in gardening by helping and teaching to school children how to grow food, and at the same time, we are supplementing with the vegetables they are growing to the diet of the school feeding programme.

Mr. Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson

Thank you so much. Thank you so much Mme. Adama, and with that I think we will open for questions from the journalists gathered here. Could we have our first question please? If you could introduce yourself and which media outlet you come from.

While we’re just waiting for our journalist to approach the microphone, can I just underline one very impressive statistic from this new school feeding policy - it will target 127,000 primary school children from grades one to six, and 5,000 older girls from grades four to six in schools located in the most food insecure and poor counties of Liberia. That represents around 16 per cent of all Liberian primary school children here, so quite an impressive programme that will be reaching out across the country and have hopefully a significant impact on the lives of the children and their families. So, with that, thank you very much and we’ll have our first question from our journalists. Could you introduce yourself and which media organization you are from.


Questions and Answers

 Q:        Sallu Swaray (Analyst Newspaper)

Good morning, my name is Sallu Swaray and I write for the Analyst Newspaper. I want to know why now trying to introduce this school feeding policy because for over some years now, this exercise has been abolished and there have been numerous concerns from various primary institutions that the only way to maintain the children in school is to have a feeding programme that will encourage them at classroom. What number of people are you going to target in this food policy programme that you’re about to launch?


A:        Mr. Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson

Ok, well maybe if I can just start by repeating the figure and then we’ll hand over to our speakers. Overall, the policy will target 127,000 Liberian primary school children and also 5,000 older girls in grades four to six in schools located in Liberia’s most food insecure and poor counties. As I said, this figure represents 16 per cent of the estimated total primary school children population of Liberia. So I hope that underlines the impact that this policy is going to have. On your additional questions I will hand over to my esteemed colleagues.


A:        Hon. Tokunboh E. Lawrence, Assistant Minister for Basic and Secondary Education

Thank you for your question. Firstly, you ask why now the school feeding policy. Am I correct? Was that your question? Yes, why now? It’s better late than never. School feeding is not new in the Republic of Liberia and this number is relatively a number from one source, the World Food Programme. But some of our partners, like you have the IRD, the International Relief for Development, their 2011-2012 school feeding was 88,400. We have Mary’s Meals that operates in Margibi, I mean in Bomi and Cape Mount. 2011 was 39,000. 2012 was 43,000 students that benefitted from school feeding.

Right now, the whole government is trying to have policy and systems for harmonization. When you do have policies and systems in place anyone that comes in should be able to move, go forward with those policies and systems. We are trying to get away from this great disconnect. Everybody comes into the country and just decides what they want to do. Now with the national school feeding policy, if we have any international organization that comes to Liberia and wants to do school feeding, we will hope that they will have access to the policy and meet with the Ministry of Education, which is the official arm of the government to work with school feeding because it’s within our schools. And then we have guidance as to what we need them to do.

We could also let them know that listen, in x, y, z counties we have school feeding security there so it’s most needed right now in Cape Mount. Why don’t you carry most of your programmes in Cape Mount instead of having a whole lot of duplications and repetitions? And there will be defined guidelines, defined policies and we will be there to guide and facilitate and help them to work. This is why it’s a national school feeding policy to keep people aware of what’s going on and we intend to harmonize because this is a national thing that will also help the farmers and all the stakeholders involved. Thank you.

 Q:        Varney Kamara (New Democrat Newspaper)

My name is Varney Kamara and I write for New Democrat newspaper. Mme. Minister, I understand and underline the key phrase that is used in the background for this programme, and you talk about counties that are food insecure. So I want to know exactly when you talk about food insecure, what do you mean and how did you derive at this point for those counties. My second question is going to Mme. Faye, the Country Director for WFP. Could you just share with us how much dollars and cents have you spent on food donation in Liberia since launching your operations into this country, and who are the direct beneficiaries because we’ve heard a lot of claims and counter-claims as to where your donation is actually heading. So could you just share with us some of those points? Thank you.

A:        Mme. Adama Diop-Faye, Country Director of World Food Programme

I think I can pick up both questions because when it comes to food insecurity I think it’s our field. We have launched recently the Comprehensive Food Security and Nutrition Survey that really defined and at the same time mapped out where food insecure people are. Who are the food insecure people? They are people who can’t afford to have the three normal meals in a day. And we have the ones that are very food insecure; usually they have only one meal a day. Some which are borderline who manage to have maybe three meals today but two tomorrow. And people who are really food secure. And the ones who are really food insecure represent 28 per cent of the population actually after the survey that was conducted last year, and the results have been launched just a week ago.

Usually WFP implements its feeding programme, be it the school feeding or any other programme helping communities improve their livelihoods, in those food insecure areas. There are many counties. Actually six out of the fifteen counties are food insecure in this country.

Coming now to how much WFP has spent in school feeding, I think since the war stopped to now we have spent $200 million already in school feeding, without counting what we have spent before during the crisis. Up to this year, we have been targeting 234,000 beneficiaries, children, among which 6,000 for the take-home ration.

The policy actually is a general policy that aims at the end to really have a generalized school feeding programme all over the country and in all food insecure areas. For the moment, we are just targeting this number, but it can go much beyond when government comes with partners to scale up the school feeding programme and generalize it, because it has been demonstrated that school feeding is a real investment for development. We are really investing in human capital because when you see the correlation between poverty and literacy, you could see that the more a child is educated, the more it will help its family to get out of the vicious circle of poverty. So it is a real investment that we are doing when feeding a child in a food insecure area, we help that child have a better attention span at school, we help that child stay in school because parents are less tempted to use those children for household chores or labour. Particularly for girls, we are giving a take-home ration in areas where the gender gap in school enrolment is more than 25 per cent in favour of boys instead of girls. So we try to give an incentive to families to send their girls to school so they can at least adjust with the gender gap and have the same enrolment rate. And with the school feeding, also we have noticed that there is a higher success rate, a higher retention rate, and all that contributes to human capital development.

A:        Mr. Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson

Thank you very much, if I may ask a question myself. I know that there will be many families out there in Liberia who may be beneficiaries under this policy who will be very interested to know what the size of the ration will be, that they will be getting if they are beneficiaries under this new policy, and how regularly they will receive food. Could our guest speakers say a few words on the size of the ration and the regularity of provisions?

A:        Hon. Tokunboh E. Lawrence, Assistant Minister for Basic and Secondary Education

The ration is 16 kilograms of wheat, bulgur wheat, and we will give one litre of oil to each girl. This is the take-home ration for the girls because the drop-out rate of girls has been high. The disparity is being bridged.

Now, I also want you to understand that there is a direct relationship between school feeding and enrolment and attendance. When school feeding is not going on in the school, you will be surprised. The enrolment could drop more than 50 per cent, especially in rural Liberia. Children come from villages far away. When they go home for lunch, they’re not coming back. So it has a serious bearing on the country, school feeding. So we want to ensure that this is a continuous process.

Now, I want us to also be aware that school feeding, we are looking in a new direction of school feeding as an investment. For sustainability, we want to encourage family farmers and we want to encourage the community to also take ownership so that most of the family farmers can be encouraged to grow food that our children will benefit from eating.

And secondly, I want to touch mainly on the agriculture and the education aspect. We also want to encourage, coming back to the school gardens. May I digress? We have more than 108 school gardens going on right now just with World Food Programme. School gardening will be good because we want to introduce our children for sustainability, to how important agriculture is. So this is a good time now, in the early stage, to introduce our children to sustainability in food growth. And what better way because they will have the practical application with the school garden and then they will have also the academic information on school gardens. If we have to move toward sustainability, and how a school garden is important as an investment because our farmers, family farmers, home growth, they will realize that they can plant, it can be used and that children can be the consumers of what is planted within the community. So that’s a big arena that school gardens will be moving to. And we are really again happy to have this forum right here to allow the people might know what is the system. It has a long-term implication, and it also has a lot of political stability because with food gardening we can go a lot of places in our educational sector, which is very important for any country, the human resources development.

A:        Mme. Adama Diop-Faye, Country Director of World Food Programme

Maybe we should complete a bit about the ration. Hon. Minister gave the take-home ration, but [in addition to the monthly take home ration] we also provide a hot meal for children at school which is composed of, for each child: 120 grams of bulgur wheat, 35 grams of lentils, 10 grams of vegetable oil, and 4 grams of salt for each child. So every day at school they count the number of children who are present and they multiply it by these figures and prepare the hot meal. And it’s usually parents who are preparing the meals, offering free labour for the preparation of meals in school.