Source: African Development Bank Group (AfDB) |

Burkina Faso: A Food and Nutrition Project has been a ‘Godsend’ for Students at Village Schools

Funded by Japan and administered by the African Development Bank, this $990,000 project reinforces the government’s initiatives to provide students with at least one balanced meal a day

Without this project, some of our children would not have eaten anything by midday

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, June 12, 2022/APO Group/ --

It’s 13:00 at the primary school in Konioudou, a village in the rural commune of Kombissiri, about 40 km outside the capital Ouagadougou, and it’s time for the pupils’ midday break. In the shade of the courtyard’s large trees, some are playing, teasing each other, laughing; a few others are leafing through books. But all are waiting for one thing: lunchtime.

At the headmistress’ signal, the children line up at the entrance of their classes. Inside, a canteen worker serves food on plastic dishes. Then the pupils enter the room, in small groups, to take their own plates. What’s on the menu today? A millet porridge enriched with monkey bread, peanut powder, and sugar. Next time, it could be couscous, rice, beans, cowpea salad, or other meals based on local produce.

With its 600 pupils, the school in Konioudou is one of 70 selected in three regions (Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre-Sud and Sud-Ouest) to benefit from the pilot phase of the School Meals with Local Produce for Intelligent Nutrition Project. Funded by Japan and administered by the African Development Bank, this $990,000 project reinforces the government’s initiatives to provide students with at least one balanced meal a day.

Launched in 2020 for two years, with a one-year extension, the project helps schools set up fields and gardens, and provides them with agricultural, gardening, and cooking equipment and inputs. The produce provides meals for the students for a few weeks. “Last season, more than 25 tonnes of agricultural produce were harvested, despite poor rainfall,” says Innocent Bamouni, who is responsible for the project at the Ministry of Education. In the gardens, production continues, and 14 tonnes of produce are expected.

“Without this project, some of our children would not have eaten anything by midday,” says a grateful Prosper Guigma, president of the Konioudou parents’ association. Pupil Lassané Compaoré adds: “The meals are good and clean. Here, we have meals that we don’t have at home. And we are happy to eat together and, afterwards, to stay here to learn our lessons.”

The same satisfaction is shared in Kamsando, another village in Kombissiri. “This project is really a godsend for us,” says Mahamoudou Ouédraogo, headmaster of the village school. “When a pupil has eaten at midday, it has a positive effect on their performance in class. However, due to a lack of resources, many families do not prepare lunch. They can only do so for two or three months, just after the harvest in September.”

According to Innocent Bamouni, the state allocates more than 18 billion CFA francs (about €27.31 million) to the communes each year to purchase food for school canteens. This amount has remained the same for several years, even though enrolment has changed. And with the country’s security crisis, many suppliers have not delivered food to schools this year, as prices have soared. “In the commune of Kombissiri, most schools have not received their supplies,” the education department’s Innocent Bamouni reports. “Only the 15 schools covered by the project are able to serve meals to pupils, thanks to their agricultural and market garden production.”

In addition to offering students the opportunity to eat, the goal of the project is to improve the nutritional quality of their meals. The high prevalence of malnutrition was one of the criteria for selecting the three pilot regions.

During the first quarter of this year, 140 canteen workers (two per beneficiary school), as well as 70 school directors, mothers, agricultural officers, community representatives, and project contacts took part in training in local product processing and food hygiene in school canteens.

“When we come back, there will be a big difference from what we used to do, because we have learned to prepare many things. We will be able to vary the pupils’ menus using local produce. The students will have a wider choice,” explained a cook to the public daily Sidwaya. Mariam Coulibaly, an agri-food research engineer and principal trainer, added: “Our local produce is very rich; all that is needed is for the cooks to be well equipped to put together meals, so that they can combine proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, mineral that the children are well nourished and productive.”

Back in their respective villages, the cooks invited the women to share what they had learned.

In its first year of implementation, the project lived up to its promise in the targeted schools. Supported by teachers and students, parents ploughed, sowed, and harvested. “When we are asked to bring wood to school (for cooking), we are happy because we know that we will eat,” adds little Lassané Compaoré. In short, everyone understands that sustaining the project’s achievements depends on the continued involvement of all in promoting the local canteen.

The success of the pilot phase could lead to the extension of the experiment, which several schools have already requested.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of African Development Bank Group (AfDB).