WFP to continue assistance to Bhutan

The new role is going to be more of an enabler than an implementer

Contrary to popular speculation that Wood Food Programme (WFP) would end its presence in Bhutan by 2018-end, the international organization will be here in the country till 2023 to partner with Bhutan to graduate from Least Developed Country status to Lower Income Country status.

This, according to WFP, has been decided after consultations with the government and following a careful review of the needs in the country in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was decided that there continues to be a strong need for WFP support in the country.

However, WFP will not continue with the provision of in-kind food assistance. It will no longer be operational in food distribution as part of the school feeding programme, but instead will shift its focus to institutional strengthening and capacity development in nutrition and Disaster Preparedness and Response (DPR).

According to the Bhutan Country Strategic Plan (CSP: 2019 – 2013) developed by WFP Bhutan and endorsed by the government guiding WFP’s work in Bhutan, WFP will be leading UN outcomes on setting up national rapid post-disaster needs assessment capacity, national rice fortification programme, transition of the National School Feeding Programme to a National School Nutrition Programme, and strengthening the national capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters.

As part of the new role, WFP has taken the lead for the UN in DPR and will support the Bhutanese government in coordination, data preparedness, logistics, emergency telecommunications and food security.

Accordingly, the agency with the government has developed a Road Map for Disaster Risk Management for Bhutan to guide coordination, actions and investments of both development partners and government partners.

It will also look into the establishment of national 72 hours post disaster needs assessment capacity to enable disaster response within 72 hours. An Earthquake Impact Model, to be developed by Durham University based on global data and experience from the Nepal EQ, is planned to model various earthquake scenarios and their likely impact in Bhutan to better inform disaster contingency planning.

For nutrition, WFP is assisting the government in developing a national regulatory framework for food fortification and compliance, supported by development of national fortification standards and support to setting up a rice fortification blending facility.

Additionally, WFP is also assisting the government in developing a national framework for improvement of dietary and health practices of school aged children (6-18 years). This is expected to support the government’s transition of the National School Feeding programme to a National School Nutrition Programme.

Further, WFP will support a planned scale-up of the school feeding programme from currently 1/3 coverage to national coverage with supply chain cost optimization and school infrastructure.

As part of supporting the national coverage and transition to a National School Nutrition Programme, WFP supported the completion of a National School Nutrition Strategy 2018-30 and will be developing a Behavior Change Strategy for school children and community, support to the completion of a National School Nutrition Strategy 2018-30, develop a nutrition and district-based menu design, support the development of national health and nutrition curriculum for school age children from 6-18 years, training of teachers and cooks, cook books and model kitchens.

The agency will also train 9,000 farmers in production, planning, post-harvest techniques, farmer organization and business management and link them to schools for increased dietary diversity, local and fresh food and increased farmers’ income.

The country office will also assist Bhutan reach the SDGs and address the accelerating inequalities between countries caused by new technology, including artificial intelligence, through a number of innovations that are integrated in national frameworks, build national human capital, and support the government drive down costs of programmes and services.

To replace the current paper-based system and reduce food waste and waste of nutrition supplement (Vit A, deworming pills), a school-based, real-time and integrated, nutrition, health and education monitoring and reporting system has been developed and rolled out nation-wide. The system will also generate more gender-aggregated data and show the dietary diversity of school children to enable design of more nutritious meals.

A game-based learning platform for nutrition education and behavior change is also planned for development to motivate children and ensure stronger nutrition education learning and integrate physical activity in the school’s learning session.

Another innovation includes a Menu Optimizer Tool to reduce the cost of the school menu, increase the use of local food and support district-based menu planning using available local foods. The menu would be designed based on set requirements for nutrition content, quantities, maximum cost and proportion of local food.

Meanwhile, a budget of USD 9mn has been earmarked for five years, according to the Bhutan Country Strategic Plan, with the largest share going to nutrition support.

Namkhai Norbu from Thimphu