Ladies and Gentlemen,
IFAD and the World Food Programme have been very strong partners but one of the main reasons why that partnership has been so strong for the last eight years has been Mr Fawzi Al-Sultan. So before I give my statement to you I want to give a tribute to him and to thank him for his leadership. I want to tell you that we so much appreciate his leadership in the UN system, we appreciate his leadership among the UN agencies in Rome and we appreciate his leadership as the head of an agency that is an important partner for the World Food Programme. He has carried out his work not only very well for the effects of the programmes of IFAD but also in the interests of very close cooperation between the agencies in Rome and leadership within the UN in general. I can tell you that when he spoke at the ACC meetings, his views were always very much appreciated and taken to heart, and certainly his leadership efforts in making sure that the three agencies in Rome were close collaborators was a very important reason why we are today. So I want to give him tribute and say thank you to him because he has made a difference not only for IFAD but for all of us in the system, and to tell him, in front of you, that we look forward to staying in touch with him, and I, certainly on a personal level, very much appreciate his friendship.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and every person in this room shares one important goalto invest and to invest wisely in the future of the people living in the developing world. The IFAD loans to poor farmers, the FAOs agricultural production expertise and extension programmes and food aid provided by the World Food Programme are all long-term investments geared to help poor people to meet their food needs, geared to ending hunger throughout the world. Now I cannot miss this opportunity to speak to so many leaders of so many countries throughout the world without talking about something critical to each of us, and that is one of the most important avenues to strengthen countries and individuals, and one of the most important investments we can make in the world, and that is to feed children, in particular children in school. There are very few opportunities to directly touch the lives of millions of people, to make life better for future generations, but feeding children in school is one of these opportunities. This is something the World Food Programme has been doing for its 38 years but I want to highlight it to you today because it accomplishes a dual goal. It helps reduce hunger and it helps educate people.
During the World Food Summit we all talked about cutting the number of hungry people in the world by half by the year 2015. We have also all talked about the UNs commitment for education for all. The combination of these two objectives by the international community makes initiatives like feeding children at school a critical way to achieve these objectives. We have found, and many studies throughout the world have found, that when we feed children in school we do so many things. There is a direct impact on the number of children who go to school and on their performance. There is a direct impact on the number of children who are able to listen more, to learn more, when they are in school and therefore they become better educated and they become adults who are better able to take advantage of economic opportunities. It is so difficult for so many families, particularly in poor countries, to send their children to school. Many of the children are undernourished or malnourished; sometimes they stay home in order to help support the familys meagre existence in terms of being able to work. But uneducated children have so much less opportunity to participate in the world afterwards.
This is important not just for people running food aid programmes so I am not speaking to you to say please help WFPs programmes. I am speaking to you as leaders to say, of all the things that you do in your countries, feeding children at school is one of the most important because it helps combat hunger at the source but it also helps with developing the education for children so that they no longer have to be hungry when they are adults and when they can earn more and have more opportunities and contribute more to their families well being. It is estimated that there are still 130 million primary school age children, mostly girls, who do not attend school. Certainly, providing food in school helps to get children to school. No one government in a poor country can accomplish this. No one agency can, no NGO can, but many people working together can. But what is more important than anything else is the commitment of the leadership of each government to see that children are fed in school. Even if a government does not have all the resources to do it, they can set it as a goal, and they can look for opportunities to develop those resources from the communities, from the parents, from individuals, from agencies, and from many others who would be committed to help to do this.
Feeding children at school is not just a project for poor countries. It is a project that is critically important. When I was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture before joining WFP; I managed the food distribution programmes for poor Americans and, in particular, providing food in school to children. I remember going to one area which I thought was a rich school district and having people tell me that lunch at school and breakfast at school was so important to every child. To every child, because they did not necessarily get the food they needed before they started their day but when they had that food they paid attention more, they did better on tests, they were less tardy, they were present more often. This is true in poor countries, it is true in wealthy countries, it is important everywhere.
The theme this week is working with the rural poor and, of course, these, the children of the rural poor, are so susceptible, as their whole families are, to so many problems of poverty and hunger, but if we can help children to get to school we can make a difference in their lives. You have seen these children, you have seen the ones that have tried to go to school, that have walked kilometres and kilometres from home to get to school. You have seen how their families struggle for them to make it to school. Imagine how much better off they could be if they knew that when they got to school there would be not only intellectual sustenance but sustenance for their bodies. The benefits of education to economic growth and its contribution to increased productivity have been demonstrated over and over again. Our investments in human capital, especially education, are critical to economic growth, perhaps more than anything else.
One other important point, educating the girls at school makes a difference not only for generations to come but for entire communities because when girls are educated, when females are literate, that makes a huge difference in the community. Each added year of schooling for a mother results in a five to ten percent decrease in mortality among her children. In the last 25 years, 44% of the reduction in child malnutrition was attributable to womens education. Mothers who complete primary education have an average of two fewer children than those who do not have school and they also are more likely to send their children to school. Basic education is critical, it is critical to changing the world, to ending hunger and ending poverty and feeding children at school is critical to that education. This opportunity to encourage you to look at these programmes in your own countries is one that I could not resist, because as we look for better ways to invest in the developing world. Yes, we must invest in agriculture, and we must invest in economic development. But, we must also invest in educating our children. And we can help to do that by feeding children in school.