That is the sound of hundreds of students at Tilingatar High School in Tokha Municipality lining up for their midday meal of rice and veggies. This still unfinished concrete school of 1,100 students on the urban edge of the Kathmandu Valley is one among tens of thousands of government schools country wide that serve hot meals to their students. In two more years the midday meal programme (known here as diya khaja) will feed children in all 77 districts, after the remaining 6 districts transition from meals provided by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). This is no small feat, nor cheap. From 2017 to 2020 the diya khaja budget almost quadrupled (from $20 million to nearly $70 million). After teachers’ salaries, this is the largest education expense in Nepal.
In March I travelled to the Far West region and visited five schools in both the hills and the Tarai plains. Unanimously I found that officials and parents liked the government’s school feeding. It made students excited about going to class and provided some of them with their most healthy meal of the day.
I'm not saying there are no challenges: some schools and the municipal governments that transfer the money to them to run the programme — budgeted by the central government — say that providing 15 rupees per child per meal just isn’t enough, when they also have to pay for cooks, utensils and transportation. And media reports appear regularly about low quality food in a certain school or of officials substituting processed food for the nutrition-based menu created by the ministry of education and WFP. Surprisingly, neither the government nor the UN agency has analysed the impact of school feeding on child nutrition in Nepal, a country where malnutrition remains a major health problem.
That said, schools and municipalities are forging ahead with diya khaja. In the fertile outskirts of Kailali district — with the help of the WFP — schools are contracting local women farmers to provide rice, lentils, milk, yogurt and almost every other ingredient needed for their menus fresh from their fields. And here in Tokha, the municipality has itself expanded school feeding beyond grade 5, the last year of the government programme, to grade 10.
Article and video on school feeding in Nepal
Article on school meals in Nepal and Canada
World Food Programme global report, with Nepal case study
Nepal Now social links
Thanks as always to Nikunja Nepal for advice and inspiration.
Music: amaretto needs ice ... by urmymuse (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/urmymuse/57996 Ft: Apoxode
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