Earlier this month experts and ministers from 37 countries converged on Costa do Sauípe, Brazil, to debate options for strengthening school feeding programmes for millions of children worldwide. WFP’s Victoria Cavanagh attended the event as part of a delegation from Zimbabwe and sent us this blog.
When it comes to fighting hunger, the Brazilian approach has become a model that many would like to emulate. The country’s exemplary social policies, in particular their Zero Hunger strategy, have pulled 16 million people out of extreme poverty in the last decade.
Prior to 2003, Brazil faced major problems of hunger, malnutrition and a high dependency on imported food. Today, it is the third largest agriculture exporter and has the sixth largest economy in the world. The secret to its success: political willpower and multifaceted programming.
Brazil is not secretive about its social transformation. From 20-24 May, the government joined WFP’s Brasilia-based Centre of Excellence Against Hunger at the Global Child Nutrition Forum (GCNF) to share its experiences and help other governments learn how to eradicate hunger.
Some 200 representatives and 23 ministers from around the world met in Costa do Sauipe, Bahia, to talk with experts about best practices in school feeding.
“No child should go to school hungry; c’mon, this is the 21st century! It’s not an issue of finances, it’s a matter of political will,” said Daniel Balaban, Director of WFP’s Centre of Excellence Against Hunger on the opening night. Everybody agreed. US $1 invested in school feeding returns at least US $3 in economic gains depending on the country, and much of the conference focused on governments seeing school feeding as an investment rather than an expenditure.
One of my favourite parts of the week was a field visit to Inhambupe to meet a local farmer, a farming cooperative and to visit a school. Jose Alves dos Santos grows oranges which he sells to the national School Feeding Programme or to Fair Trade. You can see him in the photo above, in the white and green T-shirt.
For Jose, the best part of selling to schools is the guaranteed market, because Brazil’s policy is that a minimum 30% of all school food must be bought from local small producers. In addition, the Family Agriculture Programme gives him agricultural inputs and credit to help boost his citrus production. The combination of increased production and reliable sales has enabled Jose, and, millions like him, to pull his family, out of poverty.
Another facet of the school feeding programme is explaining to children the value of the farmer in the field... growing what you eat and eating what you grow. Brazil has included this into its school curriculum and tries to show that being a farmer can be a profitable way of life.
I attended the conference to assist two officials from the Government of Zimbabwe. Personally, one of the biggest benefits was having a whole week to discuss school feeding with them. In Harare there are often competing priorities, but without much internet access and with a room full of global experts, we were consistently engaged. We’re heading back to Zimbabwe with a feast of new ideas of how to ensure all Zimbabwean children are going to school, concentrating in class and building strong foundations for their futures.