The World Food Programme (WFP) in Cambodia spoke highly of the government’s commitment to supporting its healthy breakfast scheme, which currently runs in over 1,000 public schools nationwide.

The government on March 13 issued a sub-decree assigning nearly $5 million in funding to the Home-Grown School Feeding programme – a WFP initiative that is currently being implemented in 46 countries – which will purchase agricultural products from local communities.

Community agricultural products could refer to milled rice, meat, fish, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruits or cereals.

The programme, which provides a healthy breakfast to students every morning, was first implemented in 1999 to improve the nutrition of children in poor and high-risk areas and contribute to an increase in food productivity.

WFP country director Claire Conan expressed her appreciation to the government, noting that approximately 40 per cent of the participating schools are currently managed by the state through its allocation of the nearly $5 million to the programme this year, up from $2.9 million in 2022.

“Providing food at schools is important because it attracts children and keeps them enrolled. In addition, it provides children with the appropriate macro and micronutrients for them to be able to focus on their studies,” she said.

Conan said the programme also contributes to social protection as it is an indirect transfer to households, who are relieved of providing one meal each school day to their children.

“The new home-grown model – in which schools procure food [especially rice, vegetables and protein] locally – also stimulates local economies and provides a regular market for smallholder farmers,” she added.

She noted that there are currently over 290,000 pre-primary and primary school students in 1,113 schools across 10 provinces benefiting from this programme. The schools were selected based on indicators such as poverty, food and nutrition insecurity and educational challenges.

“In the future, we would like to see every Cambodian child enjoying a healthy meal at school every day, and we hope that the national school feeding programme will be expanded further,” she said.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and WFP conducted a countrywide workshop in January this year. They agreed to consider a possible national expansion of the programme in the future – both geographically as well as to lower secondary schools – when resources allow.

Conan said that latest figures showed that in 2022, the dropout rate stood at 1.62 per cent, a 3.42 per cent decrease on the 2019 figures.

“This is a remarkable achievement in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global food/fertiliser/fuel crisis,” she added.

“We believe that school meals, in conjunction with other interventions, have helped encourage parents to keep their children in school,” she continued.

Ros Soveacha, spokesman for education ministry, said good nutrition enhances the quality of learning and teaching and further improves quality of life.

“The ministry welcomes cooperation from all relevant sides to improve nutrition and the health of learners,” he said.