Liberia: Gov’t, Partners Recommit Support to Home-Grown School Feeding Program

Top Government Officials and International Agency Representatives gracing the occasion

Monrovia – The Government of Liberia and its partners including the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Bank has recommitted their support to the Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF) program for Liberian schoolchildren.

Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]

Speaking on behalf of President George M. Weah at a one-day national stakeholders conference on HGSF, Foreign Minister Gbehzongar Finley said HGSF encompasses basic social issues including education, health, agriculture, gender and economics.

He said when successfully implemented, the program will not only serve as an incentive for students to remain in school but will also provide nutrition for the children and boost local farmers’ productivity and income.

Said Minister Finley: “This program is not only going to guarantee the future of our children, it is going to guarantee the needs of economic good and development for rural dwellers. We must take ownership of our destiny. We must take ownership of the home-grown school feeding program. We have no option, we have no choice. Because if we take ownership, we will ensure that our farmers will produce the food that is needed to feed our children.”

He continues on behalf of the President: “Drawing of the national zero hunger review report in which home-grown home feeding was highlighted as critical, my government recognizes the importance of education for our children and the need to ensure food security and nutrition for the Liberian people. I am delighted that today you gathered here to map out and deliberate on the framework for support to actualize this noble cause. Your innovation and flagship initiative must succeed.”

Also speaking, WFP Regional Director for West Africa, Abdou Dieng noted that School meals programs are a fundamental investment for the children’s’ development and the future of Liberia.

From improvements in health and food security to increased enrolment and retention rates and enhanced productivity lasting into adulthood, Dieng said the benefits of ensuring that a child attending school is well-nourished extends far beyond achievements in the classroom.

He said a recent United Nations Cost-Benefit Analysis of school meals programs globally showed that every dollar invested in school meals programs generates US$6 in economic return.

He added that enabling the children and future youth of Liberia to access their full-potential serves also as a mechanism for sustaining long-term peace.

Speaking further the WFP Regional Director indicated that the National Stakeholders Conference is being held to not just reiterate the well-evidenced benefits of school meals, but to also highlight the evolution of school meals programs in Liberia today.

He noted that the Government of Liberia, supported by the United Nations system, NGOs and other cooperating partners, has recognized the need to ensure that the school meals provided to children are sustainably resourced in order to achieve full national coverage and ensure ownership of this program, and as such,   food should be produced and procured locally – with Liberian farmers providing locally-grown food for Liberian schools.

“Through the Home-Grown School Feeding approach, we are not only ensuring children with the head-start they need to thrive, but we are providing local farmers with predictable market opportunities for their produce, leading to a stable income, more investments and higher productivity,” he said.

With the majority of smallholder farmers in Liberia being women, he pointed out that the initiative also serves to enhance gender equality within Liberia through the empowerment women, especially of rural women farmers; adding “I am glad that the benefits of the Home-Grown School Feeding have been recognized by the Government within its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, under the leadership of H.E. President George Manneh Weah.”

For his Part, Liberia’s Education Minister, Prof. Ansu Sonii called for a concerted effort from several government ministries for the success of the program, placing the Ministries of Education, Agriculture and Health at the core of the project.

Minister Sonii lauded the government’s partners that are currently providing a meal for school children including the WFP,

WFP, Mary’s Meal, ZOA and Save the Children and stressed that the issue of school feeding is more critical now that the government has extended the school hours to 3 pm.

Agriculture Minister, Dr. Mogana Flomo pledged his ministry’s support to the program, noting “We will work with the Extension Department to improve the technical know-how of farmers. There’s a need to create awareness on the importance of food that are produced locally.”

Launched in 2017 by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Home-Grown School Feeding is intended to deliver a government-owned cost-effective program with focus on using food that is locally grown by smallholder farmers for school feeding programs and progressively produce surplus for other consumer markets.

It is a multifaceted intervention which integrates agriculture, nutrition and education and bears the potential to serve as a long-term sustainable solution to hunger in Liberia while ensuring schoolchildren with an incentive to remain in school and access an education.