The changing climate, combined with the Cameroon’s growing population and rising food prices makes it difficult for households to provide food that is sufficiently safe and nutritious to meet the dietary needs of children. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognises Cameroon as a low-income food deficit country.
Food insecurity in Cameroon
- In some rural areas as many as 46% of children under 5 are underweight.
- Up to 70% lack access to clean water
- 90% of children are illiterate.
According to the World food Programme’s (WFP) Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) 2017:
- Around 16% of households are estimated to be food insecure (3.9 million people),
- This includes 1% that are severely food insecure (around 211,000 people).
Food insecure households by region
The regions of the Great North, which have historically been exposed to issues related to food availability, access and utilization, remain the most food insecure:
- The Far North (33.7%), followed by Adamawa (15.4%) and Nord (15.3%).
- North West and West 18.1% and 18% respectively.
Food insecurity has various effects especially on women and rural adolescent girls, given that this category of persons is the key to unlocking the full potential of agricultural development in poor countries and ensuring food security for children.
Gender and food insecurity
House-hold food insecurity has strong linkages with school absenteeism. Both food insecurity and lack of education are the most common deprivations that pose a serious challenge to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of education for all in developing countries. More than 80% of rural households in the developing world rely on farming for their livelihood to some degree.
Farming in rural areas is performed by women accompanied by girls. This includes the daily collection of water and fuel for the household. In some rural areas, girls may spend up to eight hours a day walking to and from a local water source. These responsibilities require a great deal of physical exertion and time but are often unrecognised and fail to be acknowledged as productive labour.
Also, adolescent girls are expected to care for younger siblings, the sick, and the elderly; cook; clean; and complete other household chores. Girls who bear these extraordinary work burdens often drop out of school long before they have gained the knowledge and skills they need to develop into healthy, thriving adults that arebable to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. This has high opportunity costs not just for girls, but for households, communities, and the economy at large.
School feeding programmes
The WFP and World Bank provide evidence that school feeding can effectively support larger social protection programmes, build on and solidify gains made in nutrition programmes for infants and younger children, and help countries respond to and become more resilient to shocks. School meals may also result in lower dropout rates and improve household food security.
These findings reveal that when host governments pass and implement school meals policies, they create a foundation for successful collaboration across the multiple government agencies and institutions that have a stake in school meals, including the agriculture, education, health, and even finance and rural development sectors.
McGovern-Dole Food for Education Prgogramme
Cameroon, like many other countries has adopted school meals programmes as a social safety net to achieve education, nutrition, agricultural, and economic development goals including food security. In an effort to boost food security and girl retention in schools it has implemented the United States Department for Agriculture (USD) McGovern-Dole Food for Education Programme.
Collaboration has been key to the realization of the programme. The programme is implemented in the North West Region Of Cameroon by Nascent Solutions. Other partners include local authorities from the Ministries of Basic Education, Public Health, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Water and Energy, and Caritas Kumbo. International partners include Books for Africa and Worldreader, and Fantastic Phonics.
Objectives of the programme
The programme seeks to improve:
- The quality of literacy instruction, through more consistent teacher attendance, better materials, and training of teachers and administrators.
- Student attentiveness, through the daily lunch programme and extracurricular activities.
- Student attendance, through school infrastructure improvements, enrolment outreaches, an increased community understanding of education benefits, and reducing health related absences.
- Use of positive health and dietary practices, through increased knowledge of hygiene, safe food preparation, and nutrition, as well as increased access to clean water and sanitation, preventative health interventions, and the provision of safe food preparation and storage items.
- Education systems, through enhancing the capacity of local government and civil society, as well as local education- and nutrition-related policies.
Impact of the Programme:
i. Parental engagement
Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA) and community members have been engaged in the programme by tilling, tending and harvesting the school gardens. Volunteers have cooked and served USDA donated rice, beans and locally grown supplemental vegetables and foods. This Programme demonstrates the increasing commitment and ownership local communities are taking in the nutrition and education of their children. The dedication of the beneficiary communities is demonstrated by their contributions in terms of labour to school gardens and their attendance to best farming practices seminars. Parent Teacher Associations continue to be essential partners as Nascent strives to find the best means to assist in the education and nutrition of local children.
ii. Enhanced child nutrition
Parents and community members across Bui Division in Cameroon have always been involved in the growing season. 92 Participating schools and their PTA’s have received training from Nascent/MGD field workers on best sustainable farming practices as they move progressively towards autonomous management of the school farms to supplement the school feeding programme.
These parents and local communities that often struggle to make ends meet and feed their children have been committed partners in improving the lives of their children through education and better nutrition. While political and social unrest are currently preventing regular school sessions in parts of Cameroon, affected communities continue their dedication to the education and nutrition of their children, by enrolling in large numbers for the mobile libraries and doing their part to supplement the nourishment of their kids by tending to gardens.
iii. Improved access to education
School meals and take-home rations encourage, and contribute to students’ increased school attendance and enrolment in a positive manner. Parents are able to send their children to school since the family receives a net opportunity gain from children receiving food at school or through take home rations.
Young girls who would otherwise be working the fields to help their families to get food are going to school regularly. In school, they are not inactive, hungry and inattentive. They are now paying attention and learning to read and write and get their wings as scholars.
In the predominantly Muslim Islamic Primary School Njombo and Christian Bamkikai, the effectiveness of three years broad community outreach and sensitisation has inspired enthusiastic support and buy-in for all-facets of the USDA flagship programme.
With the political unrest and disruption of schools, parents queued up in long lines to sign out books and receive take-home rations, thanks to the Mobile Reading and Take-Home Rations crises adaptations of the programme.
Nascent Solutions have also constructed new classrooms, libraries, clean water wells, water tanks, hand-washing stations, bathrooms and kitchens in over 45 schools. 92 school gardens have been established in some schools. This has gone a long way in establishing a foundation and commitment to education to take root in healthy, sanitary, learning conducive environment, sowing the seeds of future social progress.
The McGovern-Dole Food for Education Programme, implemented by Nascent in Bui Division, is transforming the nutrition, well-being and education outcomes of children. What’s more, it is transforming communal attitudes towards education, particularly the education of girl children. Extending similar programmes to the Northern regions of Cameroon which are most affected by food insecurity will boost school attendance for the girl child, moving towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4.
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