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Children could go without school lunches in Madagascar

Of all the developing nations which provide reliable health data, Madagascar has the highest rate of stunting among children due to malnourishment.

Over half of young children in the country are stunted and various agencies are involved in projects aimed at improving this situation.

A number of programmes are being run through medical centres and health workers to promote breastfeeding during the crucial first six months of a baby’s life. And an advisory group has been set up to oversee breastfeeding policies and strategies for improving the nutrition of older children. The nutrition action group includes representation from over 50 organisations, including those in the government, university, not-for-profit and media sectors.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is also active in Madagascar, helping to provide free school lunches to over 200,000 primary school pupils in the south of the country. However, this vital support programme is currently in jeopardy as the UN organisation faces severe shortfalls in its funding. Existing funds are only available to ensure the running of the school feeding scheme until the end of January. Another 5 million dollars is needed to extend the provision of school meals until May 2013. This means children in around 1,200 schools, many of whom are already malnourished, might soon go without their most nutritious meal of the day.

Speaking to the news agency IRIN, a WFP spokesperson for the regions affected said “normally, we send out enough food...for three months, but since the stock is so low, we are planning to send out only for a month”. According to the WFP, over 650,000 Madagascans are food insecure in the south, requiring emergency food aid during the lean season. This normally runs from October to January, but irregular rainfall, locust swarms and flooding from cyclones has meant poor harvests for many over the last few years, meaning food assistance is needed until March.

One ten year-old told IRIN that often “there is no food at home”, especially when her fisherman father fails to catch anything. And even when there are meals at home, they frequently only consist of rice and manioc. At school, her lunch includes corn and vegetables.

Farmers are also worrying about the shortfall in the WFP funding, since local suppliers provide the organisation with much of the corn. In the past, training and advice on new farming practices have helped locals to improve their yields, but if the association to which they belong cannot sell to the WFP, these farmers may struggle to sell their produce for a reasonable profit.

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