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School feeding programmes, which provide meals so that millions of children in poor countries can attend classes, can be broadened to reach even more pupils with the help of donors and partnerships, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today as it called for increased international support.

Nancy Walters, the chief of school feeding policy at WFP, told a New York forum on hunger that the programmes have many benefits beyond the immediate goal of ensuring children do not go hungry. They help children stay in class, reduce levels of diseases and other health problems, empower girls, lift education standards and free many youngsters from having to work.

Some 66 million schoolchildren in dozens of countries currently receive meals through the programmes, and Ms. Walters said WFP would continue to fund and implement them with the help of its current partners.

“But we will deliberately seek and work with [other] partners” in a bid to reach every child in need, she stressed.

“WFP remains ready to support national governments through its partnerships to establish national programmes that seek to grow and be scaled up to reach all the needy,” Ms. Walters said, urging participants at the forum to “think out of the box” on school feeding.

The forum, Feed Minds, Change Lives: School Feeding, the Millennium Development Goals and Girls' Empowerment, was co-organized by WFP, the World Bank, Brazil and Russia, and is being held on the sidelines of the annual high-level segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Predictable and secure funding is critical to sustainable programmes, Ms. Walters noted in her comments to the forum, praising countries that have protected their programmes from budget cuts in the wake of the global economic slowdown.

Ms. Walters said the benefits of school feeding programmes can already be seen in many nations.

“We have seen the impact of fortified biscuits on anaemia levels in Bangladesh, for example. We know about the impacts in terms of gender, social protection, stability, income transfer, freed parental labour, combating child labour impacts and how school feeding can be a platform to local production, nutrition, hygiene and HIV information.”

She also emphasized their value to efforts to reach the social and economic targets known as the

Accra / Ghana/ Africa / Modernghana.com