Our reporter YK Poudel interviews Carrie Morrison, the country director of the World Food Programme in Bhutan, discussing the role of WFP in the country. The article delves into details concerning the WFP and its collaboration with other agencies and departments…Excerpts

What are your thoughts on the United Nations World Food Programme’s initiative, which has prioritized food and nutrition by providing significant financial assistance and supplying goods?

This is WFP’s 50th year in Bhutan. Our partnership with Bhutan began in 1974 when WFP first arrived to support school feeding. By 1976, we were providing school feeding to 1,037 students in nine primary schools. By 1978, there were 12,555 students receiving WFP school meals, more than 60 percent of all students in Bhutan.

The National School Feeding and Nutrition Programme (NSFNP) is a remarkable success, both nationally and globally, and the country should be applauded. With the transition from WFP to the Royal Government in 2019, we now focus on improving the nutritional status of more than 90,000 schoolchildren under the NSFNP.

In 2021, WFP introduced its School Menu Planner (SMP) PLUS tool. This digital tool creates cost-effective school menus from the nutritious crops grown by nearby farmers. SMP PLUS has improved the dietary diversity of students in 276 schools in 12 dzongkhags. Last year, over 870 mt of fresh fruits and vegetables was sold to these schools by smallholder farmers. Ninety percent of the farmers supplied their food through WFP-supported aggregation systems, with 80 percent growing more nutritious crops.

The SMP PLUS is complemented by WFP-supported workshops for school and kitchen staff on food preparation. We are educating on cooking techniques that help retain nutrients and reduce the use of unhealthy ingredients, like oil and salt. To ensure a good environment for preparing school meals, WFP also supports the construction of school kitchens and storage.

In 2022, WFP engaged students, parents, and teachers in formative research on food consumption behaviours. The findings informed a National Social and Behaviour Change (SBC) Strategy and Action Plan for Nutrition, which was finalized in 2023 in partnership with MoESD, and the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

The SBC activities are designed to improve the nutritional status of schoolchildren. They have been introduced in 15 schools, including two schools for children with disabilities in Thimphu and Chhukha. A campaign called “Eat Khe-ta, Be Se-ta” (Eat Smart, Be Smart) was launched on social media and, to date, more than 110,000 people have viewed the posts on healthy diets.


Reflecting on the programme since its inception in 1964, it has been 50 years since WFP has been assisting in the education sector in Bhutan. How do you see the impact of this programme over the decades?

WFP’s partnership with Bhutan and the Royal Government is exemplary. The school feeding programme is a feather in the cap for both WFP and the Government – it illustrates WFP’s successful support to the Government in building Bhutan’s human capital. Students who received WFP school meals range from Cabinet ministers to nurses to farmers supplying vegetables to the NSFNP. For the government, it indicates growth, ability to provide nutritious meals to students along with education, which is free in Bhutan. This highlights the importance that government places on the health and well-being of children, and the farsightedness in investing in, and developing, and securing the future of the Bhutanese children.


How does the new country strategic plan (2024-2028) of the World Food Programme (WFP) align with Bhutan’s draft 13th five-year plan, specifically concerning the improvement of nutritional outcomes for school children and adolescents?

WFP has ensured its new Country Strategic Plan (CSP) is aligned with the national priorities in the draft 13th Five-Year Plan. Our focus is on creating a better future for everyone in Bhutan, including schoolchildren and adolescents, and making sure that no one is left behind. A child’s education and nutrition constitute more than their well-being – it creates the future of a country. According to Harvard University, every USD 1 invested in school meals yields an average of US Dollar 9 in economic returns.

Like other countries in Asia, Bhutan faces a triple burden of malnutrition with high prevalences of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and obesity. Bhutanese diets are characterized by low dietary diversity and an increasingly higher consumption of rice and processed or junk foods. A WFP study in 2022 found that up to one-third of Bhutanese families cannot afford a healthy diet. School meals, including fortified rice, are an effective and efficient way for the Government to address this. WFP will continue supporting the government so that children have sustained access to safe, healthy and diversified meals.

At the core of school meals is the Bhutanese child. It is more than simply filling that child’s stomach. It is about young children receiving nutritious meals to grow into healthy adults. Ensuring nutritious school meals provides a platform to nourish the next generation, creating jobs, economic growth, and longer-term development for the entire country. Nutritious school meals are a gateway to a better, healthier, and more prosperous future for Bhutan.


How does WFP’s Country Strategic Plan (2024-2028) extend its support beyond the national school feeding and nutrition program in Bhutan? What are the additional pillars, and why is it essential for WFP to assist Bhutan in these areas?

We see our support, schoolfeeding, nutrition, food systems, and emergency preparedness and response as essential for ensuring Bhutan’s sustainable development, food security, and resilience to multi-hazard shocks and crises. By addressing these priorities in our new CSP, WFP contributes to strengthening the overall well-being and livelihoods of the Bhutanese people.

The Lancet estimated that up to one-third of global climate change impacts are due to food systems, and in 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged how food systems impact both climate change and nutrition. With a largely agrarian population, the need to achieve sustainable and healthy diets – with approaches specific to the context of Bhutan – cannot be overemphasised.

The focus of WFP’s work will continue to provide technical assistance that helps ensure the country is prepared for climate-related and other shocks, resilient, and food and nutrition secure.


How does Bhutan’s graduation from Least Developed Countries (LDC) status affect the funding sources for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Bhutan?

WFP applauds the remarkable achievement of Bhutan’s graduation, which is a testament to His Majesty’s unwavering commitment to the country’s progress and resilience.

WFP and other organisations may need to adapt their programmes to align with the country’s changing development needs and funding landscape. That being said, WFP already shifted its focus in 2019 towards technical assistance and capacity-building initiatives. While graduation might lead to funding challenges in the future, it also creates opportunities for new partnerships and collaborations.

On average, over 60 governments fund WFP’s work globally. All of this support is on an entirely voluntary basis. WFP also receives voluntary funding from corporations and individuals. In fact, my parents donated to WFP long before I joined the organisation.

We are already engaging with emerging donors, the private sector, and different regional organisations to secure support for our activities in Bhutan. Proactively expanding our funding sources and developing new partnerships will help mitigate any impact and support WFP’s efforts to achieve zero hunger in Bhutan.