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Emergency school feeding programmes

Summary of evaluation1

An emergency school feeding programme in Rumbek, Northern Bahr El Ghazal

WFP have recently completed an evaluation of emergency school feeding programmes (ESF)2. The evaluation consisted of a desk study, three field visits to countries with ESF operations2, an e-mail survey distributed to ESF project managers in country offices and an analysis, including a workshop to review and process the data.

The main findings of the evaluation were as follows;
In most of the projects studied, ESF objectives were not fully consistent with needs of benefi- ciaries. Project documents, at times, referred to 'standard' objectives, such as reduction of gender disparities and the increase of primary school attendance, or set broad objectives to cover a variety of school feeding activities in a countrywide operation. Consequently, objectives did little to guide implementation. WFP field staff frequently did not follow them and sometimes formulated their own objectives that were more consistent with needs than the original ones. Cooperating partners were often not aware of the WFP objectives either and defined their own project objectives, for which they would merely seek, and usually receive, WFP support.

Stakeholders identified ESF aims other than WFP's objectives, ranging from nutritional goals such as 'helping to meet nutritional requirements', increasing food security at school or closing the food gap, to goals of psychosocial and physical protection. A frequently mentioned alternative objective was to facilitate a return to normality for children affected by an emergency.

In situations characterised by high food insecurity and malnutrition, WFP has to focus resources on the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable people. But some donors object that school feeding does not necessarily address such problems and may even compete for resources with programmes that aim to save lives.

Assessing the educational situation and identifying the main needs and constraints is a challenge in emergency contexts, exacerbating the difficulty of implementing ESF. Coupled with the lack of coherence between objectives and needs and the shortcomings in implementation at the school level, this has reduced the effectiveness of some ESF projects.

The evaluators argue that school feeding can be effective when nutritional improvements are a prerequisite for achieving educational objectives. Supporting education through school meals is a unique way of improving the quality of learning, by alleviating short-term hunger and reducing late morning absenteeism when children leave classes to find food. Unaffordable school fees, however, can cause low enrolment and attendance, as well as inaccessibility of schools or discrimination against certain groups. Work to improve enrolment and attendance needs to be based on an understanding of such barriers in a given situation, not all of them can be addressed by school feeding, and some require specific action.

The type of modality is particularly important in volatile, impoverished or resource-poor emergency or recovery contexts in terms of, for example, food preparation times, the relative and perceived value of the food, support for and supervision of food preparation and the requirements for additional inputs and infrastructure. To prepare daily meals, schools need kitchens or cooking facilities, storage to protect food from misappropriation and spoilage, and water for cooking and cleaning. Under-resourced schools cannot provide these inputs and are therefore excluded from the programme or have difficulties preparing the meals. Communities also have to provide resources and parents are often called on to contribute food or non-food items. Many poorer schools struggle to provide these inputs and are therefore at a disadvantage. Depending on the objectives, less demanding modalities, such as biscuits or take-home rations, may be alternatives.

The choice of food and implementation modalities in relation to project objectives and the target population is, therefore, a strategic one. Current guidance on modality selection does not provide the context-specific information or selection criteria to enable WFP staff to design optimum interventions for emergency situations.

School feeding programmes require sanitation, water, and hygienic cooking and storage facilities. In communities where these conditions do not exist, WFP needs to work with partners such as UNICEF to provide the necessary infrastructure. The challenge is to ensure that schools that could benefit from assistance are not excluded from the programme because they do not meet minimum conditions.

Targeting criteria and processes need to take account of needs and resources. This is currently limited because educational indicators have a minor role in geographical targeting and school selection, and needs assessments do not identify the areas of greatest need where school feeding might be most effective.

WFP also has to link targeting to the logistics challenges and delivery costs. If this is not done, the most vulnerable schools may not receive food because unforeseen logistics problems raise the cost of delivery to remote locations above the budget limit. More flflexibility is needed in adjusting this limit to meet the conditions of the emergency.

WFP may have to choose between allowing more effective implementation in the short-term or taking a longer-term perspective and building the capacity of the government. Where WFP uses ESF as a tool for linking relief, recovery and development, field staff must be sensitised and empowered to build capacity or increase community involvement without requiring quantitative performance targets.


The evaluation concludes that the challenge for WFP is to develop responses for each context rather than an overarching approach for ESF. Approaches developed by WFP programmes - for example, providing rations for mothers to prepare meals, as in the DRC, or providing financial and logistic training for new education authorities as in the Sudan, can inform more context specific EFS programme design in the future. Also, ESF assistance does not always reach the schools that would benefit from it most, primarily because WFP is not using opportunities for context-specific design of ESF for particular contexts. The organisational causes of this design weakness are the lack of context-specific expertise, guidance and tools to implement ESF and the prevailing culture of decentralised decision-making in WFP. The standard tools and procedures are either not specific enough or fail to reflflect the educational rationale of ESF projects. A significant gap is limited availability of staff that understand the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of each ESF modality.

Two factors that reduce the effectiveness of ESF projects are imprecise targeting and lack of complementary inputs. Improvements in needs assessment and more precise targeting may make coordination with other educational and nutrition /health activities more difficult. Increased coordination with UN and NGOs involving adoption of their criteria carries the risk that WFP's targeting principles may be compromised, for example, nutritional considerations might be left out of the targeting process. Improvements are needed in both areas - WFP has to find a balance between increasing the accuracy of its targeting and improving coordination with its partners.

The evaluation set out a number of recommendations including;

Show footnotes

1Executive Board Annual Session, Rome 4-8th June 2007. Evaluation report 7, Agenda item 7. Summary report of thematic evaluation of school feeding in emergency situations. WFP/EBA/2007/7-A. April 27th 2007.

2Pakistan, Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Reference this page

Emergency school feeding programmes. Field Exchange 31, September 2007. p22.



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