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A generation at risk: nearly half of global food crisis hungry are children, say WFP, African Union Development Agency NEPAD, The Education Commission and education partners

Photo: WFP/ Theresa Piorr. School girl enjoying nutritious school meal with local vegetables
ROME – School-aged children are bearing the brunt of today’s Global Food Crisis with devastating consequences for their education and their ability to catch up on learning lost during COVID school closures, warn the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the African Union Development Agency NEPAD, and organizations working on education, including the Education Commission chaired by Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

WFP estimates that the global food crisis has pushed an additional 23 million under-18s into acute food insecurity since the start of the year, taking the total of children now affected to 153 million. This represents nearly half of the 345 million people facing acute hunger, according to WFP data from 82 countries.

The global food crisis is threatening the futures of millions of school-aged children who have only just returned to classrooms following the Covid-19 pandemic. Emerging evidence points to unprecedented learning losses during the pandemic, which risk being further compounded by this current food crisis. The World Bank estimates that the share of 10-year-olds in poorer developing countries unable to read or write has increased from 53 per cent to 75 per cent.

“As every parent and teacher understands, hunger is one of the biggest barriers to effective learning – and the surge in hunger among school-age children now poses a real and present danger to a learning recovery. For children who are going hungry in their classrooms, we have a ready-made, cost-effective antidote – school meal programmes. Let’s use it,” said Gordon Brown, adding: “The Transforming Education Summit is a critical opportunity to tackle the hunger crisis.”

Ahead of the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the Transforming Education Summit in New York, WFP and partners are calling for an ambitious plan of action to restore school meal programmes disrupted by the pandemic and expand their reach to an additional 73 million children. Detailed costing estimates for the plan suggest around $5.8bn annually would be required.

The plan would supplement wider measures to combat child hunger, including an expansion of child and maternal health programmes, support for out-of-school children, and increased investment in safety nets. Hunger levels among the 250 million children now out of school are almost certainly higher than for those in school, the WFP warns.

“Millions of children are living with the consequences of the mutually reinforcing food and learning crises. Yet the link between hunger and lost opportunities for learning needs to be more prominent on the international agenda – and school meal programs can help break that link. Not investing in school meals programs is perhaps one of the worst possible economic decisions governments and donors can make, especially now,” says Carmen Burbano, Director of WFP’s School-based Programmes Division.

School meal programmes are among the largest and most effective social safety nets for school-aged children. They not only keep children, particularly girls, in school, but help improve learning outcomes by providing better and more nutritious diets. They also support local economies, create jobs and livelihoods in communities, and ultimately help break the links between hunger, an unsustainable food system and the learning crisis.

The Transforming Education summit needs to deliver results, said Wawira Njiru, who leads the Food for Education Foundation, an NGO which delivers school meal programmes in Kenya and one of the leaders of the coalition’s ‘Communications and Partner Outreach Group’.

“The long-term effects of hunger and malnutrition are devastating for Kenya, and children in particular. Children do not have a vote, and they are not asked what their top priorities are. We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone is better protected from food price spikes and economic shocks. Failure to do so is quite literally handicapping the future of our country,” said Njiru.

A growing coalition of governments has come together to build the School Meals Coalition, which aims to ensure that every child can receive a healthy, nutritious meal, complemented by other health interventions, by 2030. Led by France and Finland, 70 countries, supported by more than 70 organizations, have worked tirelessly to scale up school meals programmes, increasing domestic investment as a response to the crisis.

For example, in Rwanda under the leadership of President Kagame, the national school meals programme has increased its coverage from 660,000 to 3.8 million children in two years, while in Benin, President Patrice Talon has committed to increase the budget for the national school meals programme from US$79 million to US$240 million over the next five years. The United States has committed to provide US$943 million for the next year to support the purchase of locally-grown foods for its national school meal effort in response to the ongoing impacts of rising food costs.

Fati N’zi-Hassane, Head of Human Capital and Institutional Development with the African Union Development Agency, which is a member of the School Meal Coalition’s taskforce, said: “African countries have long recognized the benefits of school feeding to protect children's health, nutrition, and education, whilst strengthening local food systems. Country ownership and commitment is the key. Efforts to protect and scale up these programmes are now more important than ever, to protect the youths of Africa from the colliding food and education crises.”

Despite some progress, the bleak global economic outlook and debt distress in low-income countries remains the main barrier to expanding school meal programmes. WFP, the Education Commission and education partners, are therefore calling for three things: the prioritization of school health and nutrition programmes at the Transforming Education Summit; the scale up of safety nets such as school meals as part of the food crisis response; and a robust donor response to match domestic commitments already being made by low- and lower middle-income countries. These actions should also be monitored to help drive greater ambition and provide critical accountability. This must be done alongside core investments in maternal and child health and nutrition services to maximise impact throughout the first 8000 days of life and to set children up for a healthier and more prosperous life.

“Prioritizing school health is a sound economic and social investment. Sustained and adequate funding of school health, including school feeding, water and sanitation, deworming and immunization will unlock the full potential of our countries' human capital and resilience, while fostering equity and inclusion across sustainable development program,.” said Yacine Diop Djibo, Founder and Executive Director SpeakUpAfrica, an advocacy action tank dedicated to catalysing leadership in Africa and an active member of the School Meals Coalition.

Note to editors:

For the calculation of the number of acutely food insecure children, WFP used country level population statistics and food security data. The sample consists of 82 countries/country groups where WFP operates. The estimated number of acutely food insecure children is derived from the total number of people estimated to be acutely food insecure in 2022, based on integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) data, equivalent data from other sources and estimations, as reported in WFP's Global Operational Response Plan June 2022. WFP calculated the number of children among the total by multiplying the share of children in the total population of a country with the number of people facing acute food insecurity. The country figures are aggregated to a global figure. Variations in the number of children according to income levels are taken into account.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

The Education Commission is a global initiative encouraging greater progress on Sustainable Development Goal 4 – ensuring inclusive and quality education and promoting lifelong learning for all. The Commission is helping to create a pathway for reform and increased investment in education by mobilizing strong evidence and analysis while engaging with world leaders, policymakers, and researchers.

The African Union Development Agency-NEPAD is the technical body of the African Union. The core mandate of the AUDA-NEPAD is to facilitate and coordinate the implementation of regional and continental priority programmes and projects and to push for partnerships, resource mobilisation, research and knowledge management. Through AUDA-NEPAD African countries are provided unique opportunities to take full control of their development agenda, to work more closely together, and to cooperate more effectively with international partners.

Food for Education is a social enterprise that leverages the demonstrated effectiveness of school feeding, combined with innovative technology, to eradicate classroom hunger and improve children’s educational outcomes. We provide hot, nutritious, subsidized school meals to some of the poorest children in Kenya. We run an affordable school feeding program in Africa and are pioneering school feeding programs in Africa to deliver a quantifiable impact on children sustainably and at scale.

Speak Up Africa: Headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, Speak Up Africa is a Policy and Advocacy Action Tank dedicated to catalyzing leadership, enabling policy change, and increasing awareness for sustainable development in Africa.

Follow us on Twitter @wfp_media  l  @educommission l  @NEPAD_Agency  l @Food4Education  l  @SpeakUpAfrica1



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