Mali

In a remote area of Mali, a school feeding program helps keep enrollment up

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TASSINSACK (North of Mali), December 15, 2009-Battered by the wind, scorched by the sun, and with its surrounding walls almost completely covered with sand, the school in Tassinsack (a locality close to Timbuktu in the North of Mali) is a symbol of commitment to education.

Its clay classrooms accommodate 220 students, including 99 girls, divided into six classes assigned to seven teachers. The principal, Mahamane Tandina, is quite proud to present his institution to today's guests: a World Bank mission accompanied by local education officials.

This school is special because it is benefiting from a pilot project for school canteens, a crucial program geared toward encouraging enrollment in zones where poverty threatens children's nutrition, by ensuring regular attendance and reducing the dropout rate as well as malnutrition.

Here in Tassinsack, the daily ration for each child is 150 grams of grains, 30 grams of vegetables, and 10 grams of oil. Due to extreme poverty, parents are unable to pay the monthly contribution of CFAF 1,000 (approximately US$2.30) per child, which goes to cover the salaries of community teachers. Although the State decided to again include this community school in the national education budget two years ago, the limited public resources are barely enough to cover the wages of two of the teachers in Tassinsack, let alone maintain buildings that have fallen into disrepair.

"The small portions of rice with dried fish or meat that the children eat at their only daily meal at school serve as an incentive for parents to allow them to get an education," Tandina said. "Otherwise, they would have accompanied their mothers to the market to sell legumes or helped their fathers in the field."

The school serves the entire suburb of Timbuktu. Enrollees, averaging 30 to 40 students per class, are drawn from beyond the little hamlet of approximately 30 families that make up Tassinsack. Some 75 percent of the students obtained their Certificate of Primary Education in 2009 and enrollment currently stands at 100 percent.

According to the principal, children no longer stay away from school since the canteen started a year ago. As an incentive, the cooks are each given a ration equal to that of five students. The community at large also participates by providing fuel wood and condiments.

Budget Support Key to Canteens

The World Bank conducted this mission in Timbuktu in order to take a firsthand look at the situation, assess the impact of the Poverty Reduction Support Credit (PRSC) on the poor, see budget support on the ground rather than from a distance, and prepare a fourth credit for the 2010 budget (PRSC4). The agenda of the visit included talks with the Regional Budget, Finance, and Public Procurement Directorates, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and officials from the Regional Social Development Directorate.

It bears noting that the reform program supported under the second series of budget support (PRSC3 to 5) granted by the World Bank to Mali places greater emphasis on strengthening public financial management and improving access to basic social services, while strengthening the institutional and regulatory framework for infrastructure and private investment.

On May 19, 2009, the World Bank's Board of Directors approved an International Development Association (IDA) grant of US$65 million to Mali, under the third Poverty Reduction Support Credit (PRSC3).

National School Feeding Policy

On November 4, 2009, the Council of Ministers reviewed the national school feeding policy drafted with a view to achieving the goals of universal enrollment. According to the statement issued by the Council of Ministers, the Government committed to strengthening and extending this school feeding strategy in light of the "encouraging results noted" during this pilot phase.

The national school feeding policy seeks, in particular, to create adequate conditions to ensure the sustainability of the school canteen strategy "so that hunger will not prevent access to education or keep children out of school," according to a statement by the Government.

In order to achieve this objective, the document proposes a plan of action for 2009-2013, which includes, among other things, the creation and opening of canteens over a five-year period. It will be financed by the State, the territorial governments, as well as technical and financial partners.

It is also expected that the beneficiary communities will help develop the infrastructure, and operate and manage the canteens. "The implementation of this policy should, inter alia, help improve enrollment, keep children in school, prevent long commutes, increase the time spent in school, and create employment," according to the Government.

Education is the largest public expenditure item in Mali's budget, accounting for over 17 percent of public spending in 2007.