Global stocks of rice are at their lowest in two decades.
As a result rice prices have more than doubled since the start of the year.
The United Nations World Food Programme’s spokesperson, Paul Risley, says the “poorest of the poor” will go hungry because their agency can’t afford to buy rice.
“For us this is a very immediate crisis. We have had individual suppliers breaking contracts with us because they realize they cannot afford to provide rice at the price they’ve committed to. That means we end up with a shortfall. In Cambodia, we have been forced to cut back on school distributions. That means children in Cambodia will go without WFP-supported feedings because of the very high price of rice.”
As of this month the United Nations World Food Program has suspended free breakfasts to nearly half a million schoolchildren.
Sorn Sarath from VOD went to visit one of the schools affected to see the impact.
It’s lunch time at Wat Dong primary school in Svay Reang province near the Vietnamese boarder.
Children happily play in the school yard.
Sim Ly’s says his two children will have to stop going to this school because they no longer receive food here.
The breakfast that was once provided by the World food program feed his entire family of seven.
Now that’s been stopped the children will have to work to find food despairs Sim Ly.
“My children may have to go across the border to work in a potato farm in Vietnam. They can earn money ten thousand riel or eight thousand riel a day in Vietnam.”
That’s around two US dollars. He is not alone in this decision.
Principal Tit Sunly estimates that 20 percent of his pupils will have to drop out because of the suspension of the WFP aid.
“Most of students here are from very poor families and they will drop out of school now that the WFP has stopped providing breakfast. Rather than spending time studying they will have to be working to support their families.”
Primary school education is free in Cambodia.
And after the WFP start providing in 2005, the number of poor children attending schools rapidly increased.
Tit Sunly fears that good work is now being undone.
“If the WFP stops its program forever it will mean a huge amount of children will stop going to school. Right now teachers are trying to lobby the children and their parents to stay at school until at least the end of the year.”
Studies have shown that children who are fed at school have increased concentration and stronger short-term memory.
Experience has also shown that it will be girls who will be the hardest hit by the suspension of the feeding program, as they are called home to do the chores.
Children sing a song to remember the twelve months of the year.
One of them is 16 year old Sim Sokly. She is sweating and her clothes are mess from playing in the school yard.
She says she is happy because there are allot of friends here.
She wants to keep studying to finish fourth grade, but she may have to drop out soon.
“My parents are poor. I work in a potato farm in Vietnam; I also dig grass it’s only when we have free time that I go to school.”
Principle Tit Sunly is calling on the WFP and the government to help keep these children feed and educated.
But the government says its struggle to deal with the dramatic rise is the price of rice.
According to shops better quality rice has double it price, it now sells for more than 700 dollars pertonne compared with 300 dollars last year.
Under secretary of state for the ministry of education Boy Bunna says the government has no plans to filling the gap created by the WFP suspension of food.