Governments from all over the continent are committed to promoting home-grown school meals programmes
Next week, the African continent will celebrate school meals as the world’s most widely-used social safety net that produces multiple benefits for students, farmers and communities. On 1 March, the African Union will mark the first Africa Day for School Feeding with an event in Niamey, Niger. Authorities from all over the continent will attend the event to reinforce their commitment in promoting home-grown school feeding programmes as a key strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
During the 26th African Union Summit, in January 2016, the heads of states decided to adopt homegrown school feeding programmes as a continental strategy to enhance retention and performance of children in schools and to boost income generation and entrepreneurship in local communities.
The decision instituted 1 March as the Africa Day for School Feeding and called for the establishment of a multidisciplinary technical committee of African experts to undertake, with support from the WFP Centre of Excellence, a general study on the relevance and impact of school feeding in the African Union Member States.
The discussions about school meals were included in the Summit agenda after a recommendation by the African ministers of Education, gathered at the First African Union’s Specialized Technical Committee Meeting on Education, Science and Technology, in October 2015. The recommendation happened after the African Union sent a delegation for a study mission to Brazil, organized by the WFP African Union, the WFP Niger country office, and the WFP Centre of Excellence against Hunger. The delegation included H.E. Dr. Martial De-Paul Ikounga, Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology of the African Union, and H.E. Mrs. Ali Mariama Elh Ibrahim, Minister of Education of Niger, as well as other ministers of African countries.
African Union delegation visits public during a study visit to Brazil, in August 2015
Photo: WFP/Mariana Rocha
The visit to Brazil was an opportunity to witness firsthand the impacts of homegrown school feeding, which can be a powerful tool for local development, beyond its primary function of short-term solution to hunger. In home-grown school feeding programmes, local farmers produce food that is then purchased for use in school meals, producing multiple benefits for students, farmers and the community.
Home-grown school meals generate income for smallholder farmers and enable schools to serve as a platform to encourage dietary diversity, healthy eating habits and good nutrition. They are a strong incentive for families to consistently send their children to school, contribute to reducing child labour, early pregnancy and early marriage, thereby helping to break the lifecycle of hunger.
Niger was chosen as a host for the first Africa Day for School Feeding because it has been a leading proponent of home-grown school meals among African countries. In 2014, during the Global Child Nutrition Forum (GCNF) in South Africa, H.E. Mrs. Ali Mariama Elh Ibrahim, Minister of Education of Niger, started the process of creating a francophone school feeding network, for French-speaking African countries.
Her mobilization was so strong that one year later, in Senegal, the network evolved to embrace 23 countries, including English- and Portuguese-speaking ones. The African School Feeding Network was created, and discussions around school feeding gained momentum, drawing the attention of the African Union.
In Niger, school meal programmes are included in the 3N initiative and are seen as helping combat early marriage and reducing the number of street children. The 3N initiative is a multi-sectorial strategy of the government of Niger approved in 2012 to increase diversification of food production, expand supply and distribution chains, improve resilience of the population to food shocks, and improve the nutritional status of the population, with focus on children. Since 2012, the WFP Centre of Excellence is supporting the government of Niger to implement the National School Feeding Strategy.
School meals are an important incentive for families to keep their children attending school
Photo: WFP/Mariana Rocha
Around the world, WFP provided school meals to more than 18 million children in 65 countries in 2014. WFP also provided technical assistance to governments in another nine countries. Some 75,500 schools received WFP assistance in school meals programmes. WFP also supports the creation of national school meals programmes.
About 1.3 million pre-school children received take-home rations in 2014 to complement school meals and provide an additional safety net for vulnerable households. Investments in school meals and take-home rations can produce remarkable benefits, and according to an analysis conducted by WFP, every dollar spent on these programmes can result in a return worth as much as US$3 to US$9.
WFP will mark the inaugural Africa Day for School Feeding by hosting an event in Rome with all Rome-based missions. The event will allow for a dialogue on school meals in the context of the African continent and showcase the result of a number of initiatives undertaken.