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Biscuits – what is sustainable development?

August 22, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: USAID’s biscuits to school children programme merely highlights how little sustainable development has been achieved in Afghanistan

Just spotted this (or rather El Snarkistani spotted it for me…):

Afghan Biscuits Energize Schools

Don’t get dependent on it…

Local factories in Afghanistan are producing high energy biscuits for school children

22 August 2012 Kabul, Afghanistan


Sana, a third grader at a school in Kabul province, eats her first high energy biscuit.

Local factories in Afghanistan are now producing high energy biscuits, the crisp nutritious cookies fortified with vitamins and minerals that are used in the World Food Program’s (WFP) school feeding scheme. Local production of the biscuits, which are handed out to school children from low-income families every day, is part of the Purchase for Progress initiative. Two factories in Herat and one in Kabul have begun to make the cookies and children across Afghanistan received the first batch of local biscuits in July, just before the summer school break began.

The biscuits are an incentive for low-income Afghan families to send their children to school rather than out to work. School teachers say that the daily packet of cookies has boosted enrolment.

Sooma, who teaches at Sabz Sang School in the Qarabagh district of Kabul province, explains that “this community is poor, and the people do not know much beyond the idea of having their children start working as soon as possible.” The biscuits have meant a marked increase in attendance for her students, she says.

Haji Khan, a shopkeeper in Qarabagh, says he is grateful for the daily biscuit ration received by his four children. He has two daughters and two sons and he says he has a profound sense of contentment  “every day, when I see the WFP food in the hands of the children. They eat their biscuits when they walk home from school.”

Meanwhile, the children seem to regard the biscuits as a treat. Sana, who is in Grade Three at the Markaz Girls’ School in Qarabagh, bites into one and exclaims, “Mmmm, these new biscuits are good!”

Since 2010, USAID has contributed nearly 100,000 metric tons of food to World Food Programme’s operations, providing vital food assistance to vulnerable Afghans across the country.

Once again, superficially a good news story, but with worrying implications. After ten years I really would like to see stories about the Afghan government having been developed sufficiently so that it can run its own programmes.  It is indicative of a significant dilemma regarding the relief and development work being undertaken in Afghanistan.  The point is – is this really as far as the international community has got in over 10 years of effort?  There is still clearly no Afghan government yet involved, the process fixes Afghans into dependency, is not widespread or centrally coordinated and is hostage to the fortunes of international aid agency distractions, funding or priorities.   And the point doesn’t actually seem to be to provide education, although, funny enough, attendance levels have increased where the programme has operated, but to keep the children from being forced out to work.  There is a suggestion that the biscuit ration is “performance-based”, ie the children have to turn up regularly and learn, but it seems to be a very short route to schools turning it a poor relief system for Afghan families.  Its hard, of course, to knock USAID for doing something at least, but the proud boast to have provided 100,000 tons of food to the WFP operations in Afghanistan since 2010 merely suggests that they will have to continue to do the same for many more years.

This is not sustainability…

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