<%-- Page Title--%> Editorial <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 110 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

June 20, 2003

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A Programme with a Purpose

Shamim Ahsan

Though every government claims to have given highest priority in education sector, the huge illiteracy rate continues to be a major headache for us. Awarding the education sector with the highest budgetary allocation and donating the aged poor with a stipend of Tk 100 per month haven't brought any good. Land O' lakes Inc, an NGO and the largest Dairy Coop of the USA, is conducting a programme that has yielded great benefits in the field of primary education and attendance in school which certainly contribute to the ultimate aim of “education for all”. The programme called “Bangladesh School Nutrition Programme”, is supported by the US government's Global Food for Education Initiative, which uses food commodities provided under Section 416 (b) of the Agricultural Act.

Caption: LOL's Bangladesh School Nutrition Programme has proven successful in drawing children into schools and keeping them healthy as well.

The programme, operated by LOL's Bangladesh Field Office, commenced on April 15, 2002.
Under this programme some 2,50,000 primary school children are being given a snack consisting of a 40 gm packet of biscuits and 200 ml of milk in UHT pack, every school day. The programme covers all the primary schools and madrassas, 972 in total, spread over four Upazillas of Jamalpur district.
The most remarkable feature of the programme is that it yields a chain of benefits simultaneously: Children get nutritious food, attendance in school has increased considerably and the local dairy industry has seen a sizeable a growth.
The government of Bangladesh has attached great emphasis on primary education. Successive governments have been vehemently campaigning to eradicate illiteracy from the country. To make sure that poor children are not deprived of education the government has made primary education free. But making education free of cost has not been strong enough an incentive to persuade the poor parents to send their children to school . The poor father continues to think it much more profitable to have his son to assist him in his work. While a large number of children are never admitted into a school those who are admitted do not always pursue their studies very seriously. The evidence is obvious in the poor attendance rate in schools.
Since the programme was initiated in April attendance has gone up. This snack comprised of biscuits and milk has proved to be a good attraction for the poor ill-fed village children. The usually attendance rate shot up from 60% to more than 80%. More and more children have started to get enrolled into school pushing the enrollment rate up by 15% in 2003. The healthier rate in enrollment and attendance will certainly contribute to achieving our ultimate goal of eradication of illiteracy.
Another significant yield of this programme is the children of the project area are now getting nutritious food. This packet of biscuits and milk are fortified with vitamins and minerals, two essential things children need for proper growth. The effect of regular intake of this packet of biscuits and milk, very rich in food value, are quite visible in the better health and enhanced energy level of the children, while malnutrition, one continues to be a mayor worry for us and for which thousands of children die every year, this programme might prove to be an effective and feasible means to ensure healthy grown of the children.
The programme has also invigourated the local food industry, particularly the dairy. A fixed market for milk has stimulated the growth of dairy industry while new dairy farmers are emerging are to take advantage of this expanded market. Besides, the entire process of stocking the food and distribute it down to the schools has also benefited the local people who are associated with the transportation business.
Bangladesh School Nutrition Programme is a pilot project. In the last thirteen months of its operation the programme has already yielded results in all the three areas it aimed at. No doubt such a unique programme needs appreciation and support by the government. “More so because the programme matches with some of the priorities of the government such as problems of attendance in school and malnutrition among the children,” Brig. Sharif Uddin Ahmed (Retd.), Deputy Country Manager of Land O Lakes, Inc, points out.
Again each packet of milk costs Tk 7.50 and biscuits Tk 1.80. If the distribution cost is included the total expense stands at Tk 10, which is needed to feed a child every day. The government already has a budgetary allocation (more than 600 crore Taka for 2002) for encouraging regular attendance. So, Ahmed points out, if the government channels this amount along with some additional fund it is quite possible to feed quite a large number children. The model is right before them. Again, the donors would highly appreciate even a token contribution from the government, in which case donors will feel encouraged to continue the project for a longer period. Besides the government stipend of Tk 100 per month is given to the parents of the children and thus doesn't directly benefit the children. “In our programme children are the direct beneficiaries,” Ahmed explains.


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