The following article appeared in the Global Child Nutrition Foundation’s December Newsletter.

By Desire Yameogo

In the remote village of Tadu in Northwest Cameroon, the approximately 5,000 inhabitants – Mbororo people and others – live with poverty, malnutrition and low school enrollment rates, especially among girls.

Conditions began to change in 2009 through an innovative program that is part of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education project, which is implemented by the nonprofit Counterpart International. The three-year project promotes and supports school feeding activities as a means of encouraging school enrollment and attendance in rural communities.

“Our children previously left for school hungry and often crying. But now they are eager for each new school day to begin. Their happiness makes us proud and very happy to cook for them,” said a volunteer cook at Tadu’s government-run primary school.

The main components of the project include school feeding, take-home rations, health and nutrition education, growth monitoring, building school gardens and the refurbishment of onsite facilities, such as school latrines and kitchens, which needed to be updated to carry out program activities effectively.

In only two years, it has had dramatic results:

  • Today, 24,100 students are benefiting from the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program in Cameroon
  • The number of those benefitting from the program increased nearly 78 percent from the baseline figures
  • It has provided about 6 million hot meals to students
  • Increased student attendance by 4.8 percent for girls and 4.3 percent for boys
  • Increased student promotion rate from 74 percent to 88.1 percent
  • Increased the number of beneficiary schools from 50 to 87 through the local production of 103.5 metric tons of food from school gardens, which also led to a decreased dependence on imported commodities

The success of Counterpart’s program in the Northwest region of the country has been very highly praised.

In June 2011, Tadu welcomed a delegation from the Management Committee comprised of staff from the World Food Program (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Cameroon’s Ministry of Basic Education. They were welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd of some 1,000 community members and school children upon arrival at Tadu’s government-run primary school.

During their visit, the delegation visited the village’s school garden and the almost 1.5 hectare school farm, where food commodities like maize, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages and other vegetables are cultivated to supplement U.S.-donated commodities of rice, beans and vegetable oil.

The school gardens and farms also serve as outdoor laboratories for lessons on environmental education and agriculture, which ensure the long-term sustainability of the project. The gardens have generated additional income for the school through the sale of produce. The money generated is used to support other school activities.

The visiting delegation had the chance to see the school’s 24 square meter food storage area, which stores both imported and locally cultivated food commodities. The school’s updated and well-equipped kitchen, which was specially designed to conserve energy by using less wood fuel, is another example of the improvements made under the MGD project.

Besides improving facilities at the school, the project also provided community members with training so that they could effectively manage the new facilities.

“Before we did not know how to prepare food for such a large number of people, but with the training given to us by the project’s health and nutrition staff,” said one participant when asked how the wider community had benefitted from the school feeding program. “We are now invited whenever there is a major occasion in the village and paid to cook for visiting dignitaries.”

The delegation then watched the children eating their school lunch of rice, beans and vegetables. After lunch, there was a working session where parents and teachers exchanged experiences and ideas about the project, the management of the school gardens, the new skills and hygiene and sanitation practices acquired through the project.

“We had heard so much about this program during our various meetings with partners in Yaounde, what we have witnessed here today, is simply marvelous,” said Richard Temfack, Coordinator of the WFP/FAO Management Committee.

The visitors were impressed by the overall level of participation, not just of the school staff and children, but also the participation of parents and the wider community.

“We have learned a lot from you and shall carry your example elsewhere,” said the leader of the delegation, Madam Alice Montheu. She promised that given the enthusiasm shown by the community in supporting their children’s health and education, she will encourage the Ministry of Basic Education to personally visit the project and provide further infrastructural support to the school.

As a result of this visit, the Minister of Basic Education has already indicated that school feeding will be given high priority in Cameroon’s forthcoming National Education Forum.