Food From the U.S. Helps WFP Feed School Children Around Laos

Published May 10, 2019

VIENTIANE – A large shipment of rice, lentils and oil donated by the United States arrived at the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Vientiane warehouse on May 10, 2019, where U.S. Ambassador to Lao PDR Rena Bitter received the goods.

Since 2008, the U.S. government’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has been supporting the WFP school meals program in Laos with contributions totaling more than $60 million. Since the beginning of the McGovern-Dole support through WFP, more than 1.5 million Lao children have benefited from a nutritious meal.

The May 10th delivery of 2,200 metric tons of rice, 660 metric tons of lentils and 260 metric tons of oil will be used to prepare school lunches for 140,000 primary school children in rural areas of Lao PDR.

Currently, children in 1,450 schools across eight provinces receive a nutritious meal consisting of half a cup of rice, a quarter cup of lentils and a tablespoon of oil from the United States. The meals are complemented with canned fish from the Government of Japan, as well as community and school garden contributions of vegetables and greens.

WFP’s school meals program is a holistic package of assistance to strengthen the communities in leading the school meals program. The package of assistance seeks to create an enabling environment and promote sustainability and local ownership.

Children in supported schools have been able to advance their reading and writing skills though literacy activities, and school conditions have improved through installation of water supply, hand washing stations, community fish ponds, school gardens and green houses. Dining rooms, storage rooms and kitchens are set up through a partnership between local communities and WFP.

“Healthy and nutritious school meals are an excellent investment into the future of Lao PDR. We know that for every U.S. dollar invested, the economic return is more than six dollars in improved health and educational outcomes.  Also, children who receive school meals tend to stay in school one year longer than those who don’t,” said U.S. Ambassador Bitter.

Primary school enrollment rates have improved by an average of 14 percent in the areas supported by the school meals program. The southern provinces of Sekong and Attapeu show the highest figures, with both provinces experiencing a 20 percent growth in enrollment rates.

An additional United States program called the “Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement Program” also administered by the USDA, uses $1 million to link school meals to local agricultural production.  The program aims to build the capacity of smallholder farmers, particularly women, by increasing their production and creating a local market for their products. Since schools procure these farmers’ fresh products, the program leads to greater community ownership and sustainability of the school meals program in the long term.

The current shipment of 155 containers will be sufficient to supply close to 1,000 schools between September 2019 and May 2020.

WFP is gradually handing over the school meals program to the Government and communities until 2021, with the first batch of 515 schools being entrusted to national ownership in the coming months. In preparation of the handover, WFP has been working with the Government authorities at national, provincial and district level, and particularly with the schools and communities, so that a solid system is in place to organize school meals. The Government has allocated a budget for the implementation of the program.

“Ensuring that school meals are organized nationally is our main focus at WFP at the moment,” said Jan Delbaere, WFP Country Director and Representative. “We are working closely with the Ministry of Education and Sports to warrant sustainability of the program. While delivery of food to schools is gradually phased out as we move towards providing local food and national and local contributions, we are very happy that the United States continues to support school meals in this crucial period of transition,” he said.

The United Nations World Food Programme – saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.