Bhutan’s education ministry ready to take over school feeding programme

|     Yangchen C Rinzin     |

THIMPHU (Kuensel/ANN) – In its last mile in Bhutan, the World Food Programme (WFP) would be providing meals to 14,200 students in 170 schools this year.

Head of WFP office in Bhutan, Piet Vochten, said that WFP phasing out should be appreciated because it is convinced that the government is well equipped to continue the feeding programme without WFP’s support. Bhutan, he said, is already supporting 80 per cent of the school feeding programme.

This also means that Bhutan is entering the club of middle-income countries, which shows that there are resources available in the country and is capable of running feeding programme.

“WFP is phasing out its support to the school feeding programme, but WFP would continue to be in Bhutan to help in terms of technical support,” Piet Vochten said. “WFP has agreed that if the government wants support, we will be here, however, not with food, as we have been working with colleagues in the education ministry’s school health and nutrition division on a number of initiatives.”

He added that WFP has been phasing out gradually from the higher grades and currently provides food only to primary school where there is an agreement that WFP would provide two meals a day.

“That has been a purposely designed strategy so that we have a gradual phase out of WFP and gradual phase of taking more responsibility by the government,” Piet Vochten said. “It is a smooth transition and not all of a sudden that so many thousand students would be left with empty stomachs.”

WFP first came to Bhutan in 1974 and one of its programmes was school feeding. The Ministry of Education assures that it is well equipped to take over the students with the government’s school feeding programme.

Students of Tendu Central School. – KUENSEL/ANN

Health and Nutrition Division head with the Education Ministry, Jamyang Choden, said people should not worry about the programme’s sustainability.

“The ministry already had a plan and transition strategy in place where the government has been taking over the WFP feeding schools gradually since 2013,” Jamyang Choden said. “We started taking over students every year and accordingly WFP has phased out from those schools.”

According to the transition strategy, the government first took over 13,000 students from WFP. The ministry gradually increased the intake and 33,000 WFP students were absorbed last year.

“The plans assures that none of the students would go without feeding after WFP phases out and the ones that we have are already provided meals under the programme,” she said. “This year is the last lot of students we would be taking over and WFP phasing out would indicate that our nation is capable of feeding our students.”

Jamyang Choden said that earlier, the objective of the feeding programme was to enrol students because they attended classes when they were fed meals. Providing meals in schools also helped retain students.

She added that since this has been achieved, the ministry is focussing more on nutrition. “For instance, the first thing we did was on the consumption of salt that was reduced to five grammes as recommended by the World Health Organization from nine grammes that an average Bhutanese consumes,” Jamyang Choden said. “We have also started supplying fortified rice to the feeding schools.”

Some of the plans are to integrate school health, school feeding, and school agriculture programme, maintain records of what the school fed everyday and integrate menu to not only focus on food, but also personal hygiene and basic kitchen requirement.

Currently, students under the government school-feeding programme are provided Nu 1,000 (US$ 15.38) stipend a student, where 60 per cent of the stipend are kept to centrally procure 10 non-perishable items and 40 per cent goes to the school to purchase perishable goods. The cost of each child per meal comes to Nu 11.66 (US$ 0.179).

All schools in the government school-feeding programme get three meals a day with two of those supported by WFP. The programme supports about 80,000 students today.