Yangchen C Rinzin 

Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has committed to contribute USD 4 million (M) to the World Food Programme (WFP) Bhutan until 2023 to support school feeding in the country.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two agencies to support the transition and scaling-up of the school feeding programme to a national school nutrition programme was signed yesterday.

This, according to education officials, would address the double burden of malnutrition by focusing on the reduction of micronutrient deficiencies, over nutrition and non-communicable diseases.

The project is expected to improve school kitchen and store infrastructure and facilities, develop national standards, build 27 kitchen and stores, and refurbish 34 existing kitchens and stores.

WFP programme officer Kencho Wangmo said that talking only about nutrition and healthy school meals is not enough if the environment where the meals are produced have inferior quality.

“The idea is to develop standards in three versions, for schools that produce less than 600 meals a day, 600-1,200 meals in a day and more than 1,200 meals a day,” she said. “There will be measures to improve kitchen and stores functionality that reduces risks of contamination, food safety measures in kitchen and stores, as a part of standards.”

She said it would also develop national food and dietary guidelines for school aged children, optimise supply chain by reducing transportation costs, teacher and cook training, cook book, and online integrated school-based health, nutrition and education monitoring and reporting system.

WFP with government partners, will introduce the menu optimiser tool that calculates the most nutrition-rich menu at the lowest cost with the highest proportion of local food.

“With the optimised menu, it would cost Nu 12.72 a child against Nu 15.92 in the current menu. There’ll be 24 different food items in the menu against 19 items at present.”

She added it would also support linking farmers to schools by supporting 9,000 farmers, capacity development of small-holder farmers, and strengthen the capacity of government agencies.

Through this project, it is expected to enhance the quality of education through safe and healthy, farmers linked to the school meals market thereby increasing income and provide fresh food to diversify the school meals menu, and improve dietary and health practices among students.

WFP Bhutan office head, Svante Helms said that the recent salary raise for teachers and health workers is a strong signal to the world that education and health is the foundation and bedrock of a thriving nation.

“This will ensure that children have access to quality meals in school, integrated in a broader package of health and nutrition services,” he said.

He said that after increasing the food diversity and nutrient content in school meals, WFP would collaborate with the education and health ministries to change the eating habits of Bhutan’s children.

WFP phased out last year and handed over 30,000 of its beneficiaries to the government. The project is also part of Bhutan’s strategic plan 2019-2023.