France, Germany bolster nutrition and education for young girls and women in Laos

08/04/2024 14:11
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KPL (KPL)The Embassies of France and Germany to Laos last week visited the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)-backed school meals and nutrition programmes in the southern Sekong and Salavanh provinces.

(KPL)The Embassies of France and Germany to Laos last week visited the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)-backed school meals and nutrition programmes in the southern Sekong and Salavanh provinces. The initiatives, funded by both governments, are essential in enabling women and young girls to access nutrition and education, especially as they continue facing disproportionate impacts from food insecurity and economic instability.

The visit underscores substantial investments in the country from the Governments of France and Germany and their ongoing partnership with the government of the Lao PDR and WFP, particularly focusing on women's empowerment amid deteriorating food security conditions. In Sekong, the province with the highest recorded levels of food insecurity - 36 percent – one in two children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, with long-term devastating effects on their physical and cognitive development. In Salavanh, an estimated 43 percent of children under 5 are chronically malnourished. These two provinces are also Lao’s hardest hit by the impacts of climate change, such as seasonal droughts and floods which destroy crops and habitats.

“Thanks to the programmed food aid, France is pleased to contribute to Lao Government efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture; in 2023, France supported 139 food assistance projects around the world for an amount of more than €170 million,” said Siv-Leng Chhuor, Ambassador of France to the Lao PDR.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and amid the global food, fuel, finance, and fertilizer crises, vulnerable populations in Laos, particularly pregnant and breastfeeding women, and adolescent girls, now face heightened nutritional insecurity. Here, WFP’s school meal programmes have boosted school enrollment and retention rates, contributing to reduced poverty and malnutrition, as the biggest social safety net in the country. These projects are also aimed at women and girls in ethnic regions burdened by domestic and agricultural duties and with limited access to nutritious food due to cultural barriers.

“The German government is particularly concerned about giving young people access to nutrition and education especially in the current difficult economic situation of the Lao PDR. That is why we support the WFP's Accelerating School Meals Program in the Sekong and Salavanh provinces. We believe this school feeding program will not only support local agriculture, access to markets and healthy nutrition, especially for girls and young women, but also improve educational opportunities,” said, Annette Knobloch, Ambassador of Germany to the Lao PDR.

"We thank the Governments of France and Germany for their continued support towards the school meals and cash assistance programmes for climate resilience and nutrition. These initiatives are not just about food; they're about empowering women, employing them as cooks and farmers, and ensuring that they retain their agency and choice," said Marc-André Prost, WFP Representative and Country Director. "They're also investing in active community engagement, marking a significant step forward in WFP’s mission in the country."

The government of France has committed over €1 million in 2023 to the Cash Assistance and Resilient Livelihoods for Improved Food Security and Nutrition (CARES) project, aimed at bolstering nutrition and resilience among the most vulnerable. Split equally between Sekong and Salavanh provinces, the funding supports over 4,600 households with cash assistance to buy nutritious food. The project also provides educational resources on farming and nutrition, alongside grants for gardens to 1,600 households who complete these valuable training sessions, thus aiming to improve both nutrition and climate resilience within their communities. By focusing on women, children under five, and particularly those in the crucial first 1,000 days of life, these programmes are pivotal in strengthening community food security and resilience.

The government of Germany, through its Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), has contributed US$ 9.4 million to WFP for the School Meals Project (2023-2027), targeting 20,000 children across 200 schools in the Lao PDR. This initiative will not only boost the capacity of smallholder farmers to supply diverse and nutritious foods to schools but will also empower women through economic opportunities and sustainable development practices, significantly impacting public health and education.