If everything goes as planned, 181 primary, lower and middle secondary schools in rural areas would receive meals from July this year, which is expected to benefit 31,460 students.

The Cabinet has approved education ministry’s proposal to increase the number of feeding schools in the 12th Plan and to raise the stipend, according to Education Minister JB Rai.

Lyonpo said that budget would be proposed in the next financial year.

Currently, there are three categories of feeding: three meals for boarders with a stipend of Nu 1,000 per child, two meals per day in primary schools with stipend of Nu 670 per child and one meal a day for day scholars in central school with a stipend of Nu 335 per child.

The ministry usually gives 60 percent of the stipend to Food Corporation of Bhutan for non-perishable items and 40 percent to the schools for perishable items.

Lyonpo said that the finance and education ministries would work out the stipend. The ministry has proposed an overall stipend of Nu 2,040 per child. “This was found necessary because children have to still walk for hours,” Lyonpo said. “All the proposed schools were identified based on the needs.”

Following the Cabinet’s directive, the ministry was asked to strategise and implement the proposal in phases for additional feeding schools.

The ministry based on the vulnerability, a retargeting exercise conducted by WFP, and need based have divided   the schools into two categories. 

The ministry has proposed 97 primary schools with 10,580 students for two meals in the day category in the first phase based on the 2018 statistics. In the second phase, 84 lower and middle secondary schools with about 20,880 students have been proposed for one meal a day category. The schools were categorised based on how vulnerable the school is, remoteness, among others.

“Once the proposal is approved, we will have to prepare schools in terms of equipment and infrastructures. The aim is not only to provide food, but also to reduce the informal border to zero,” Lyonpo said.

The approved proposal, however, does not include schools under the four thromdes, although the ministry had proposed for the schools in urban as well.

Lyonpo said that it was expensive to include the schools and required detailed study.

Today, there are 263 feeding schools, including 162 schools that the government took over from the WFP this year after it phased out of the country. A total of 13, 371 students are provided two meals a day. 

Yangchen C Rinzin