Burbano 2009 – School feeding and seasonality in Malawi

School feeding programmes are effective social protection tools that have the potential to reach the most vulnerable households. The programmes transfer resources implicitly or explicitly to poor households of the value of the food provided, therefore offsetting the costs of sending the child to school. School feeding can increase school participation and support learning in the classroom by relieving short-term hunger and reducing micronutrient deficiencies, two barriers to healthy and productive schooling affecting large numbers of school-age children living in poverty and food insecurity. Different programme experiences highlight the links between seasonality and access to school, particularly affecting the schooling of vulnerable children. For instance, changing labour costs associated with the agricultural cycle as well as other local socio-cultural practices have an impact on the schooling of girls, particularly those in the higher grades. However, the complex nature of both food insecurity and schooling decisions in vulnerable households requires a nuanced approach to the design of interventions aimed to address seasonality and its effects on access to education. School feeding has been successfully designed in some contexts to respond to these issues by, for example, providing take home rations to girls during harvest or lean seasons that are conditional upon attendance. This approach, however, requires a careful analysis of the trade-offs between issues of cost-effectiveness and equity. In this paper, by looking at WFP monitoring and evaluation data including school level surveys, we assess seasonal trends in school participation in rural areas of Malawi, where school feeding programmes have been introduced to mitigate impacts of food insecurity on schooling outcomes. In addition, take home rations for girls, conditional to school attendance in the lean season have been used for some years to reduce gender disparities in school participation. We also explore some of the potential trade-offs associated with linking food based transfers with local purchases, where the demand from school feeding can be used to provide a stable market outlet for smallholder farmer production.

File: Burbano 2009 - School feeding and seasonality in Malawi.pdf