Zipora used to have to travel “great distances” by bus to get vegetables for her family. Even then, her options were slim due to her meager income selling sunflowers.
These days, she has more vegetables than her family can eat and she uses the surplus to earn money and invest in her future. It’s the type of individual transformation, rooted in community development, that the World Food Programme (WFP) is championing throughout Tanzania.
Zipora’s new life is due to a community garden system in Mlebe Village, located in the Chamwino district of Tanzania’s central Dodoma region. Families have been instructed in the keyhole method of farming, in which, using sticks, farmers poke holes in the soil of raised beds and then plant seeds. It’s an efficient way to grow crops because it uses little water and better deters pests.
The success of community gardens like this helps to improve the country’s ability to feed students. Since 2015, the country has participated in WFP’s homegrown school meals program, which expands the capacity of local farmers to meet the nutrition needs of communities and students.
By sourcing foods from local producers, schools get fresher, cheaper, and more nutritious options, and families get additional income, which can then be reinvested into their well-being.
This shift has been transformative for children, whose school performance is dependent on the amount and quality of nutrients they receive.
While hunger levels have been decreasing in Tanzania over the past two decades, the country still has one of the highest undernutrition rates in the world — a crisis that particularly affects people living in rural areas, where the majority of families rely on subsistence farming.
Tanzania is one of the world’s great breadbaskets, with abundant agricultural potential, but a lack of investment over the years has hampered the ability of farmers to adapt to disruptions like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. And when subsistence farmers are not able to grow enough food, meals have to be rationed, which results in higher rates of malnutrition.
For children, the impacts can be especially severe, especially when they're not able to recoup these nutrients through breakfasts, lunches, and snacks at school. As of 2015, 35% of children under the age of 5 were stunted in Tanzania. Stunting is when a child receives so few nutrients that their cognitive and physical development is impeded, a condition that can have lifelong repercussions.
More broadly, an estimated 40% of children in the country experience chronic malnourishment, with girls suffering the most. The lack of food, in addition to widespread poverty, leads to high dropout rates. More than 40% of adolescents are unable to go to secondary school and less than 33% of girls end up graduating secondary school.
Globally, more than 73 million students are at risk of missing school meals on any given day, which threatens their ability to learn and stay healthy and undermines the future development of entire countries. Ending this crisis has tremendous benefits beyond simply keeping students healthy. In fact, WFP estimates that for every $1 invested in school feeding programs, countries receive $9 in returns, whether it’s through reduced health care costs or increased economic productivity.
The WFP has helped to develop, reform, and strengthen school meal programs worldwide, helping communities with high hunger rates to ensure all children receive the nutrients they need. But the organization is only able to do so much with a limited budget dependent on donations. To meet its goals this year — including mitigating the rapidly growing hunger crisis — the WFP is looking to raise another $5.2 billion.
The homegrown school feeding initiative — active in 46 countries — takes the pressure off humanitarian interventions because it seeks to address root causes rather than symptoms. Instead of simply delivering food aid, WFP improves the food sovereignty and resilience of countries facing hunger crises by empowering local farmers with improved farming methods, technology, financial resources, market access, and more.
These investments ensure that food is both more accessible and affordable, and schools are often the biggest beneficiaries.
Zipora represents thousands of farmers throughout the country who have benefited from the program. The transformation is only just beginning.
“I have learnt how to produce healthy vegetables without having to till the ground,” she told WFP. “My kitchen pot is full of food every night.”
Disclosure: The World Food Programme is a funding partner of Global Citizen.