SÃO TOMÉ and PRINCIPE - While the school meals programme has always been WFP’s main activity in São Tomé and Príncipe, in the past, WFP has also provided food and nutrition support to children under five and vulnerable groups including orphans, abandoned children, the elderly, people living with HIV and to pregnant and nursing women.
A new project
However, under the country’s new project, which started this year, the focus is only on school meals. The project’s main objective is to help the government to prepare for the complete handover of the management of the school feeding programme.
“Over the past years, we have been building the relationship with the Government to create the foundation for the establishment of a nationally-owned school meals programme and strengthen their capacity to manage and mobilize resources for the project’s sustainability,” said WFP São Tomé and Príncipe Officer in Charge Domingos Cunha.
“We want the Government to be ready and able to take full responsibility of the programme when the time comes.”
In 2010, with the support of WFP, the Government established the Coordination Unit of the National School Feeding and Health Programme (PNASE). A national school feeding and health policy was also finalized, approved by both the Government and national assembly in late 2011 and promulgated by the president in January 2012.
The Government has already started contributing to the costs of the school meals project. Last year, the Government made its first in-kind contribution of 120 metric tons of rice. It also paid for the non-food items such as cooking equipment and the salaries of the PNASE staff.
“These real steps being made towards the handover show political will and institutional engagement of the Government,” said Cunha.
A delicate process
“The transition has to be gradual,” said the Coordinator of the National School Feeding and Health Programme (PNASE) Alexandrina Vera Cruz, who has worked in education in São Tomé and Principe for over thirty years.
“If the school meals stop, many students will stop coming to school,” she said, adding that this rise in absentees happened between 1995 and 2000 when WFP temporarily suspended its school meals programme. A report produced by the World Bank and Ministry of Education showed a 7 percent decline in enrolment for grades 1 to 4 after the closure of school canteens.
“The relationship between WFP and the Government of São Tomé and Principe is stronger than ever,” said Vera Cruz in the PNASE office, within the WFP warehouse compound on the outskirts of São Tomé town.
“But we still need WFP’s support, especially when it comes to logistics – buying, storing and transporting the food to schools and kindergartens.”
Learning from Other Countries
Both Cunha and Vera Cruz, as well as other São Tomean government officials, have visited Cape Verde and Brazil, where the governments have successfully taken full ownership of the school meals programme.
“These countries’ experiences can serve as a model for São Tomé and Príncipe’s own transition,” said Cunha.