Leveraging Agriculture Through Home Grown School Feeding

Home Grown School Feeding was put forward as a concrete strategy to leverage agriculture for improving nutrition and health during last week's IFPRI conference in New Delhi, India.  WFP's chief of school feeding, Nancy Walters, and Lesley Drake, the Executive Director of the Partnership for Child Development, explain why.

NEW DELHI -- Sustainable, nationally-owned school meals programmes that aim to be sourced as locally as possible are a 'win-win-win' strategy. This is why Home Grown School Feeding was featured in a side event co-sponsored by the Partnership for Child Development (PCD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) during the IFPRI conference Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition & Health, which opened on Thursday, February 10th, in New Delhi, India.

School meals programmes are widely recognised as a powerful safety net because they have multiple, complementary impacts on school children’s education, health and nutrition. When foods produced locally are used in school meals, these programmes can also impact positively local agricultural production and local farmers’ lives.

School feeding acts as a platform to provide a social safety net and support learning in school age children as part of Healthy Children Approach promoted by the World Bank.

Key questions

How can Home Grown School Feeding better support agriculture, education and health?  How to promote locally sourced food baskets or products that are affordable, nutritious and sustainable? Those are the critical issues discussed during the side event attended by over 130 people.

The discussion highlighted that there is no “one solution” when it comes to home grown school feeding. In fact, there are many innovative models emerging to respond to different needs and environments.

“When making choices about school meals programmes, affordability is key, but school children nutrition needs and food security cannot be forgotten,” said Mrs. Sheila Sisulu, WFP Deputy Executive Director.  Although the damage done by malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of life is irreversible, the nutrition needs of  pre- school and school-aged children also have to be addressed. This is of particular importance for adolescent girls, the mothers of tomorrow’s children.

"Home Grown School Feeding gives the opportunity to diversify children’s diets and promote healthy eating habits, by adding fresh, micronutrient rich foods to the meals,” explained Daniel Balaban, President of the Brazilian National Education Development Fund, noting that this is done in the Brazilian School Feeding Programme, which reaches 48 million school children in 2011.

Smallholder farmers

The experiences from Kenya, Mali and Brazil show the concrete opportunities to link smallholder farmers to school feeding markets. There is a role for everyone, including traders and processors. We heard from Alice Martin Daihirou, WFP Country Director in Mali, how P4P has allowed to link small holder farmers associations with milling industries from who WFP will procure fortified maize meal for the school meals programme. PCD is providing technical assistance in Mali and in other sub-Saharan countries, for instance to set up monitoring and evaluation systems for national programmes.

“The challenge is having all ministries - health, education, agriculture, finance - working together to see school feeding as a joint programme,” said Dr. Wilson Songa, Agriculture Secretary of the Republic of Kenya. 
“Including School Feeding in larger national strategies is essential to that end,” stated Daniel Balaban, President of the Brazilian National Education Development Fund. In Brazil, school meals are part of Fame zero, the country’s hunger and poverty reduction strategy that links agriculture, health, nutrition and education. According to him, “a legal framework also empowers people to hold Governments accountable”. Dr. Songa explained how in Kenya, school meals have been included in the country’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Compact.

Nutritious foods

Working in partnership and in a coordinated way across ministries, with strong national leadership, is critical for school meals to reach the best results possible. With agriculture sector taking the lead, communities are able to produce nutritious foods for schools. The involvement of the health sector in turn is essential to ensure food safety and quality. Clean potable water is essential to prepare the meals and to practice good hygiene practices. The meeting has allowed us to hear from three great examples of national leadership and how solid partnerships including WFP, PCD, the World Bank, and NEPAD can work together to ensure school children are well nourished.

Mrs Sisulu stressed that the experience has shown that handing over school feeding programmes does not mean walking away, but accompanying governments as they develop their programmes and take over.

More significantly, school feeding was not only emphasised at the side event. Many government representatives referred to the importance of school feeding programmes, including the Prime Minister of India and H.E. Manmohan Singh and H.E. John Kufuor, former president of Ghana, who both talked about how school feeding programmes are key to support local production and to address hunger.