From the farm to the classroom in Cambodia

A community gets creative to feed children

Jessica Lawson
World Food Programme Insight
4 min readSep 29, 2017


For 286,000 students in Cambodia, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Since 1999, World Food Programme has been providing children with nutritious food to start the school day and to help them to learn, play and concentrate while they are there.

School children enjoying their breakfast before class. WFP/Photolibrary

As students pour into their school in rural Siem Reap each morning, the cooks had already been working for hours. With no refrigerator and just a small stove, school cooks are now making fresh, locally sourced and nutritious meals for an average of 150 students each day. Creativity, not electricity is a key ingredient in their success.

In 2015, WFP launched a homegrown school meals project in two schools. It has been expanded and now helps nearly 17,000 students in four provinces. Where this food comes from and how it gets to the students can have a huge impact on student’s health, the local economy and can provide a source of income to local farmers.

Parents meet to discuss the school meals program at a school in Siem Reap. WFP/Photolibrary

The journey of food

Together with partner Sodexo, WFP started looking at each school’s food supply chains, and whether they could safely source locally grown produce.

“WFP Cambodia staff wanted to incorporate local produce into student’s diets, while ensuring they were eating the freshest fruits and vegetables,” said Carla Mejia, WFP’s Regional Food Technologist.

“Staff worked with parents and teachers to design a menu for students that was nutritionally balanced, and then we looked at where the ingredients could be purchased locally, and what could be safely stored. A food like pork — which needs to be refrigerated — was identified as a risk. So we’ve focused on foods like fish and eggs, which are fresher and can be transported more easily.”

Each community has identified their own, creative ways of minimizing risks. In one school, fish are collected in the morning from several small farms, and transported while still alive on the back of a motorbike to the school. When the cook is ready, the water is drained from the bucket, and the fish are cooked, along with rice and vegetables.

Fresh food delivery: a WFP staff member demonstrates how fish are transported on the back of a motorbike. WFP/Photolibrary

The impact of fresh food on students, and a community

Today, nearly all of the food that is prepared at schools comes from farms within a 10km radius. The weekly menu includes vegetables each day, regular eggs and meat and is based on the crops that are in season. When a food is in season, it’s cheap, abundant and at its freshest point.

Feeding 150 children each day, and sourcing, transporting and cooking food has brought teachers, parents and farmers together.

“People have gotten really deeply involved. Everyone in the community participates. Parents are farmers and supply some of the food, the teachers are the storekeepers and keep track of it. The community is involved every step of the way. Parents have also become stakeholders in their children’s health and nutrition. They don’t want their children to get illnesses such as diarrhea and miss school,” explains Carla Mejia.

A parent shows some of the vegetables that will be cooked at the school. WFP/Photolibrary

It’s not just about food

WFP is also supporting children in the classroom to improve their hygiene practices, by learning how to brush their teeth and wash their hands correctly. In doing so, they can improve their overall health and take this knowledge home to their families.

“The school meals programme isn’t just a method for distributing food,” Carla Mejia explains. “It’s an opportunity to improve the quality and nutritional value of the food that children are eating, and to improve food safety practices in school kitchens.”

As for the students, the change to their meals has been a welcome one. “The students are very happy with the food, and their favourite meal is scrambled eggs and morning glory (a green vegetable),” Carla explains.

Students prepare for a healthy breakfast — fish soup and vegetables. WFP/Photolibrary

Find out more about WFP’s work in Cambodia.