LUANG NAMTHA, Lao PDR – During a visit to U.S.-funded school feeding projects in three villages on March 27-29, 2018, U.S. government officials met with Vice Governor of Luang Namtha Province, H.E. Mr. Bounyee Keokhounmeuang, and learned how local school children and farmers are benefitting from U.S.-government assistance in the province.
Deputy Administrator of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Ms. Jocelyn Brown, and Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, Mr. Michael Kleine, traveled to Luang Namtha to see how the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is implementing the U.S. Government projects with funding from USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program and the Local and Regional Procurement Program. Together, these programs represent the largest U.S. Government civilian assistance program in Laos.
Providing healthy school meals using donations of U.S. agricultural commodities helps improve literacy and nutrition among school children in rural areas, at the same time that local farmers are benefitting from the program and directly contributing to the academic success of the next generation of people from their communities. The daily meals consist of in-kind USDA commodities, vegetables from school gardens, as well as community contributions. This program is part of a comprehensive education initiative, working closely with the Ministry of Education and Sports and other partners, in which children also gain access to clean water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition education, and literacy activities.
“Our motto at USDA is: do right and feed everyone. Through these programs, our partners, and the generosity of American farmers, we are using our experience and evidence to help build a more prosperous, secure, and resilient future,” said Ms. Brown.
Mr. Kleine emphasized that the U.S. Embassy oversees a variety of assistance projects and capacity building efforts in Luang Namtha Province designed to help strengthen the education and health sectors for people living there. By partnering with UN World Food Programme, the Ministry of Education and Sport and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the school meals project provides extension services to smallholder farmers, particularly women, to increase their production and sell produce directly to the schools, thus complementing children’s daily meals with diversified local, fresh foods.
School meals have been demonstrated in Laos to increase school enrollment, improve nutrition, boost attendance and ability to focus during class, and support learning. Strengthening the capacity of smallholder farmers not only allows them to produce more and better agricultural products and increase income, it also augments community ownership of the school meals projects and paves the way for voluntary community contributions to school lunches.
In addition to Luang Namtha, Ms. Brown and Mr. Kleine also visited USDA-funded projects in Vientiane and Savannakhet provinces. Since 2006, USDA donations through the McGovern-Dole program have ensured that more than 25 million nutritious meals are served every school year to 145,000 children in schools in 30 districts across seven provinces.