It is 1 pm local time at the primary school in Konioudou, a village in the rural commune of Kombissiri, about forty kilometers south of Ouagadougou. And it’s noon break time for the students. In the shade of the tall trees that rise in the yard, some play, joke, laugh; a few others leaf through books and notebooks. But everyone is waiting for one thing: mealtime.
At the signal from the school principal, they line up, each at the entrance of their class. Inside, a canteen serves plastic dishes. Then the students enter the room, in small groups, for each one to bring their food. Today’s menu? A corn porridge enriched with monkey bread, peanut powder and sugar. Next time, it could be couscous, rice, beans, cowpeas and salad, or other meals made with local produce.
With its 600 students, Konioudou school is one of 70 establishments selected in three regions (Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre-Sud and Sud-Ouest) to benefit from the pilot phase of the school feeding project based on local products for smart nutrition . Funded by Japan and administered by the African Development Bank, the $990,000 project reinforces the government’s efforts to provide students with at least one balanced meal a day.
Launched in 2020 for a period of two years, then extended for another year, the project helps schools set up fields and vegetable gardens, providing them with agricultural, gardening and kitchen equipment, as well as supplies. The production makes it possible to provide meals to students for a few weeks. “During the past season, more than 25 tons of agricultural products were harvested despite the light rains,” says Innocent Bamouni, project manager at the Ministry of National Education. At the garden level, production continues and 14 tons are expected”.
“Without this project, some of our children would not have eaten at all this noon,” says gratefully the president of the Konioudou parents’ association, Prosper Guigma. Student Lassané Compaoré thanks him: “the meals are good and clean. Here, we have dishes that we don’t have at home. And so, we are happy to eat together and then stay on site to learn our lessons.”
The same satisfaction is shared in Kamsando, another village in the commune of Kombissiri. “This project is really a godsend for us, testifies Mahamoudou Ouédraogo, director of the village school. When the student ate at noon, this has a positive effect on their performance in class. However, due to lack of resources, many families do not prepare food at noon. They can only do that for two or three months, right after the harvest in September.”
According to Innocent Bamouni, the State allocates more than 18 billion CFA francs (about 27.31 million euros) annually to municipalities for the purchase of food for school canteens. This figure has remained the same for several years as the workforce has evolved. And with the security crisis rocking the country, many vendors have not delivered food to schools this year as prices soared. “In the Kombissiri commune, most establishments have not received their donation, regrets Innocent Bamouni. Only the 15 schools covered by the project are able to serve meals to students, thanks to their agricultural and horticultural production”.
In addition to the possibility offered to students to simply eat, the project also aims to improve the nutritional quality of meals. The high prevalence of malnutrition was one of the selection criteria for the three pilot regions.
During the first quarter of this year, 140 canteens (two per beneficiary school), in addition to 70 school directors, mothers, farm workers, community representatives and project focal points, participated in training on local product processing and hygiene food in school canteens. .
“When we come back, there will be a big difference with what we used to do until now, because we learned to prepare a lot of things. We will be able to vary the students’ menus, with home products. Students will have a more varied choice”, explained a cook to the public daily Sidwaya. On her side, Mariam Coulibaly, agri-food research engineer and main trainer, added that “our local products are very rich; it is enough that the cooks are well equipped to formulate meals, to be able to combine proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, mineral salts… so that children are well nourished and productive”.
Back in their respective villages, the cooks invited the women to sessions to share what they had learned.
For its first year of implementation, the project delivered on its promises in beneficiary schools. Supported by teachers and students, the parents plowed, sowed and reaped. “When we are asked to bring firewood to school (to the kitchen), we are happy because we know we are going to eat”, adds little Lassané Compaoré. In short, everyone understood that the sustainability of the project’s achievements depends on the strong involvement of everyone in the promotion of the endogenous canteen.
The success of the pilot phase may depend on the extent of the experiment, which several schools are already requesting.