Twelve-year-old Branza has lived in an orphanage in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, since 2010, because his parents cannot afford to feed him.

Pupils at the Ampasandratsarahoby school in Antananarivo receive their morning bean-based porridge during the pilot implemented by ONN and its partners. Photo: CIAT

Pupils at the Ampasandratsarahoby school in Antananarivo receive their morning bean-based porridge during the pilot implemented by ONN and its partners. Photo: CIAT

Madagascar is known for its sunny beaches and scuba diving. What many don’t know is that nine out of ten Malagasy people live below the poverty threshold, according to a 2013 World Bank report. Madagascar is among the world’s least developed countries. And the political crisis that hit the country between 2009 and 2013 caused further economic slowdown, and an increase in poverty and marginalization.

Half of Malagasy children are stunted due to chronic malnutrition and severe micronutrient deficiencies. “The rate of chronic malnutrition is still very high in Madagascar,” says Holy Raobelina, Coordinator of the Office for National Nutrition (ONN). “The MDG1  survey recently reported a national average of 47.3%.”

Holy is part of a team of motivated people from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry of National Education, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Population, Social Protection and Women Promotion, who are kicking off an ambitious program to fight child malnutrition in the entire country.

Pupils at the Ampasandratsarahoby school in Antananarivo receive their morning bean-based porridge during the pilot implemented by ONN and its partners.

This program involves reviving the national school feeding system, which was unfortunately abandoned in 2009 due to the political crisis.

To demonstrate that school canteens can indeed improve the state of child nutrition in Madagascar, a 5-month pilot was coordinated by ONN in an Antananarivo primary school between March and July 2013.

During the pilot, school children received a nutritious collation three mornings a week, made of porridge produced locally especially for ONN and composed at 40% of bean flour, 28% maize flour, 17% soya flour, 15% sugar and added vitamins and micronutrients. At the end of 5 months, results showed a slight improvement in the children’s weight, and most significantly a substantial reduction in school absenteeism – from an average of 10 days a month to just 2 days.

Dody Rasoahoby, National Education Director in the region of Analamanga, says: “The standards of living are very low in Madagascar, and children go to school without eating breakfast. School canteens will really help us attract and keep pupils in the classroom.”

This story first appeared on CIAT blog on 25 February 2015 where you can read the full story