|Reaching Mothers and Children at Critical Times of their Lives (WFP)|
7. WFP has acquired much experience and expertise in over 30 years of assistance to Mother and Child Health (MCH) and other projects that provide supplementary feeding. Major findings from the recent assessment of WFPs programmes, including a portfolio review of ongoing supplementary feeding projects, are as follows:
8. Research findings show that malnutrition is the outcome of an array of inter-linked risk factors: poverty (unemployment, landlessness); lack of education (illiteracy, poor child spacing); poor health (lack of clean water, poor hygiene, parasitic infections); low social status (tribes, castes, minorities); unfavourable traditions (taboos, low status of women); and/or a harsh environment, all leading to insufficient access to food and/or micronutrients.
9. Not surprisingly, then, a key finding of the thematic evaluation of WFP assistance to address the food needs of women and children at critical times of their lives is that the effectiveness of a food aid intervention is maximized when the achievement of a direct dietary effect is combined with indirect effects such as a better utilization of health and education services; increased household food security and mothers caring capacity; and empowerment of women. The full text of the thematic evaluation is contained in document WFP EB.3/97/5/Add.5.
10. In WFPs experience, food assistance to address early malnutrition will be most effective under conditions of widespread food insecurity. Supplementary feeding will usually be a less preferable option where malnutrition is primarily the result of factors such as inadequate weaning or caring practices and unfavourable social traditions, which can be better addressed through services such as nutrition education, training, growth monitoring and a build-up of referral systems.
11. To be fully effective, WFP assistance through supplementary feeding needs to be integrated with other components. This requires policy, planning and management resources, apart from the actual handling of the food itself. However, the ideal - integrated utilization of a substantial number of complementary activities - is frequently not attainable. There are situations in which WFP is faced with a very practical choice: supplementary feeding with very limited, but viable, complementary activities or no assistance at all.
12. The policy issues and operational challenges which emerged from WFPs recent review of experiences are discussed in the following section. Action on these issues will be crucial if WFP is to increase the share of food assistance programmed to contribute to a better nutritional status of mothers and children at critical times in their lives.