NICOLE MENAGE is a country representative of World Food Program in Nepal. Menage, an American citizen, joined WFP in 1983 Assistant Project Officer, WFP- Malawi. After working in different countries in various positions in WFP, Menage, who completed Masters of Arts –International Affairs/ Economics George Washington University, USA, has been here since 19 September 2010 as a Country Representative, WFP, Nepal. Excerpts of her written interview:
The World Food Program has been providing food stuffs in food deficit districts in Nepal for long time, which is the state of WFP program now?
The World Food Program provides assistance through several windows including “Assistance to Food-insecure Populations in the mid and Far West Hills and Mountains”: Under this program WFP provides food and/or cash to participants in exchange for their work on community asset-building projects in 16 districts of the mid and far west hills and mountains. This enables participating households to meet their short-term food needs whilst constructing productive assets at the community level that build medium-term food security safety nets. Assets created include: micro-irrigation schemes, link roads, orchards and plantations, and are aimed at improving the communities’ livelihood and income generation opportunities and strengthening their resilience to shocks. WFP assistance is provided during the lean season between the planting and harvest periods when household stocks and agricultural activity are at their lowest. In selected districts, where there is more availability of food in the markets and they are a shorter distance away, WFP is implementing primarily cash-based interventions to improve access to food for the targeted households, which helps in stimulating the local economy. WFP also distributes a micro-nutrient supplementation powder to the children of the beneficiaries through this program to reduce acute malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies.
As many of WFP’s beneficiaries have very small holdings and little arable land, it is important that they are able to gain greater purchasing power. WFP works with partners in many of its food/cash for assets activities to improve the quality and quantity of the stable foods they produce, at the same time as enabling these subsistence farmers to begin producing some form of cash crops such as fruits and vegetables, or medicinal and aromatic herbs in the mountainous areas.
How about “School-Feeding” Program?
WFP provides a nutritious mid-day meal of locally produced fortified wheat soya blend to 210,000 pre-primary and primary school students living in 11 mid and far west hills and mountain districts. This program effectively improves the nutritional status of children while increasing children’s access to education and ability to learn. WFP has also partnered with the Open Learning Exchange Nepal to provide laptops and Nepali curriculum-based interactive teaching and learning materials to primary schools, which contributes to improving the quality of education. In addition, WFP provides a monthly take home ration of cooking oil to 64,000 girls from grades two to five who maintain a minimum of 80 percent of attendance, encouraging parents to send their daughters to school.
What is about “Mother and Child Health Care”?
WFP’s mother and child health care program provides a monthly take home ration of locally produced fortified blended food to 40,000 pregnant and lactating women and their children (6-36 months) attending health care facilities in nine districts mainly in the mid and far west hills and mountain regions. This encourages mothers to participate in the various health services offered at these facilities as well as nutrition education. Providing nutritional support to women and children during this critical period can have a very positive effect on the health and mental and physical development of children, giving them the strongest foundation possible for a bright and healthy future.
What is “Food Security Monitoring and Analysis”?
The Nepal Food Security Monitoring System or NekSAP as it is popularly known, was established in 2002 and is currently managed by WFP in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. It is considered the most comprehensive food security monitoring system now operational in Nepal and has as its primary objective the collection, consolidation and analysis of food security data to be used by decision makers to take coordinated and timely action to alleviate food insecurity in the country. A team of 32 WFP field monitors collect data in 72 of the 75 districts. In these same districts, District Food Security Networks have been formed, composed of officials and representatives from district based government agencies, local and international NGOs, and civil society. The NekSAP reports on such topics as household food security, emerging crises, markets, agricultural production and nutrition and produces several informative monthly bulletins. It is expected that this system will be gradually transferred to the government over the next few years.
How do you see the role of WFP in the present context and now many districts?
As is explained above, WFP works primarily in the mid and far west hills and mountains regions as these are the areas that consistently show the highest levels of food insecurity. In many parts of these regions smallholder farmers can only meet 3-6 months of their food needs even in a good year. Hence, our programs are particularly important in assisting to build the beneficiaries’ resilience to food insecurity through asset creation while encouraging children to attend school and nutritionally supporting mothers and children through health care facilities.
It is reported that WFP has down scaled its program in Nepal. How will it affect the people living in remote food deficit districts of Nepal?
I am afraid that due to funding restraints we have been unable to reach all of the most highly food insecure we had originally targeted. WFP is presently facing funding shortfalls in all three of its main programs, food/cash for assets, school feeding and mother and child health care.
Many roads have been constructed including the Hilsa-Taklokot road in mid western region under WFP’s Food for Work program. How do you look at them?
Yes, the first 25 kilometers portion of the Hilsa-Taklokot road was built under WFP’s food-for-work program and the Rural Community Infrastructure Works (RCIW) program of the Ministry of Local Development (MoLD). WFP continues to collaborate closely with MoLD on a number of infrastructure improvement works through the RCIW program even today. In addition to small link roads, WFP also supports the creation of mule trails and footpaths. Road infrastructure is widely regarded as a crucial part of long term development in the remote regions and poor transport infrastructure underlies many of the disadvantages faced by those isolated in the remote rural areas, including high food prices, high costs to move agricultural produce to markets, more limited access to services and the opportunity costs of travel.
What are the main priority areas of WFP now? What is the volume of food WFP is currently delivering in remote parts of Nepal?
WFP priority areas are outlined above and are all aimed at increasing the resilience of communities to food and nutrition insecurity. The volume of food/cash distributed by WFP varies by season and funding availability. All of WFP food and/or cash assistance is provided in support of specific development objectives, not solely to fill a food gap.
As Nepal is vulnerable to climate change and it will affect the food security, what does Nepal need to do to avert the crisis in future?
There is growing consensus amongst the international humanitarian community that adaptation measures are urgently needed to help the vulnerable cope with the changing environments in which they are living. This requires adapting global and local food production methods through investments, technical capacity transfers and technological innovations, while also making existing agricultural production systems more resilient, sustainable and equitable. Adaptation strategies must be supported by strong institutions and enabling policy and legal frameworks. They must also be complemented by other responses that address the immediate effects of climate change and protect those who cannot adapt. This entails enhancing social protection and safety net systems, programs and capacities at regional, national and local levels to support the most vulnerable. It involves, as well, developing capacities and systems in risk reduction and disaster management, and in emergency and response.
How do you see the state of food production in the far-western and mid-western region now?
The cereal crop production has increased in these regions over the past two years (2009/10, 2010/11) as it has in the rest of Nepal. Nepal experienced a food deficit during the period 2005/06 through 2009/10; however the cereal crop production increased by 10.9% in 2010/11 compared to the previous years, resulting in a national cereal balance of slightly over 443,000 metric tons. Despite this surplus, the mountain districts in the far-west and mid-west regions were deficit by 42% and 22% of their requirements respectively. The hill districts in the far-west region were deficit by 24%, and the ones in the mid-west region were marginally balanced. As above mentioned, even in a normal production year, many of the farming households in the hill and mountain districts of the far-west and mid-west regions can only produce sufficient food to meet 3-6 months of their basic needs. These areas are also highly prone to natural disasters like drought, excessive rainfall, landslides, and disease infestations, further exacerbating the food security situation, as was the case during the severe winter drought experienced in these regions in 2009. According to the NLSS-III, the far-west and mid-west regions also suffer from the highest rates of poverty, which is a major factor contributing to increased food insecurity. More information published by NeKSAP can be found at http://sites.google.com/site/nefoodsec/.
As WFP has been releasing Market Watch on food production, how do you see the overall scenario?
“Market Watch” is a monthly information bulletin that is produced by our Food Security and Analysis Team in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) and the Consumer’s Interest Protection Forum. The latest issue of Market Watch (February 2012) shows the prices of the most monitored food commodities, which includes broken black grams, red potato, broken lentils, coarse rice, soybean oil and wheat flour, to have remained stable over the past four months. This reflects a normal functioning of most of the commodity markets across the country and a relatively good harvest over the most recent seasons. However, the continuous rise of fuel prices will likely increase transport costs, thereby contributing to a rise in food prices in the future. The average cost of production has shown an upward trend as well, especially in the hills, which could be attributed to the rise in the prices of inputs such as fertilizer, labor wages and seeds. There is wide concern that farmers could not get a reasonable price for paddy, although their production costs rose. The prices of potato, tomato, broccoli and green peas are also likely to increase in the next month due to the near end of their production season. The outlook for the winter crop production is quite positive so the prices of cereal crops are expected to remain stable but close monitoring is warranted to see if the hike in fuel prices and production costs will have an impact and to inform decision makers, allowing them to take the appropriate actions to ensure that agricultural production is not consequently inhibited.