The UN World Food Programme began supplying food aid to China in 1979. In less than three decades, the agency sent provisions worth US$1 billion. Through a fund-matching arrangement the mainland committed US$1.2 billion, mostly in the form of shipping and distribution costs, to the cause. At its peak, the agency had more than 20 staff in China overseeing more than 70 of its funded aid schemes, including food-for-work and food-for-training programmes in western regions. In Gansu province, where school attendance was notoriously low among girls, the agency has launched a school-food programme in the past three years to provide lunches and take-home rations to thousands of schoolgirls in return for attending class. The agency maintains that the mainland is not helpless, thanks to its runaway economic growth over the past two decades. It said the central government understood its decision to phase out food aid but Beijing had hoped the UN body would continue its assistance programmes on a smaller scale.