© WFP/Alejandro Chicheri
Every day, millions of children around the world go to school on an empty stomach—hunger affects their concentration and ability to learn. There are also millions of children—particularly girls—who simply do not go school because their families need them to help in the fields or perform domestic duties. In conflict-affected countries, where children are twice as likely to be out of school than their peers in stable countries – 2.5 times more likely in the case of girls.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has six decades of experience supporting school feeding and health initiatives and working with more than 100 countries to set up sustainable national school feeding programmes. WFP’s ultimate goal is to encourage and facilitate national government ownership of these programmes - a transition that has already happened in 44 countries. In 2019, 17.3 million schoolchildren received nutritious meals and snacks from WFP in 59 countries. Working with governments to build capacity, WFP helped bolster the national school feeding programmes of 65 countries, benefitting a further 39 million children.
Better health and nutrition allow children to learn and perform better, broadening their educational opportunities. School feeding and health programmes empower girls by dissuading parents from marrying them off early, which halts their education and can result in child pregnancies. School feeding programmes act as an incentive for families to enrol and keep children in school. Relieving parents from having to budget for lunches, they boost incomes and help to alleviate poverty—school meals represent 10 percent of the income of poor and vulnerable households, a significant saving for families with more than one child.
In benefitting children and their families, school feeding and health help build what is known as ‘human capital’—the sum of a population’s health, skills, knowledge, experience and habits.
When school feeding programmes are linked to local smallholder farm production, they benefit local economies as well. In certain contexts, they can help build trust in national education systems and foster social inclusion.
Currently 73 million children living in extreme poverty in 60 countries need urgent nutritional assistance. WFP’s new school feeding strategy, published in January 2020, reaffirm the organization’s commitment to ensuring that all primary schoolchildren have access to nutritious meals at school. WFP works with partners to ensure that meals are accompanied by a broader package of health and nutrition services, such as deworming, health screenings, vaccinations and WASH (water, hygiene and sanitation training).
WFP works with governments to tailor its responses: in emergency settings where countries do not have the capacity to meet the nutritional and educational needs of all vulnerable children, WFP will scale up its coverage and operations; within more stable contexts, WFP helps to strengthen systems and provides technical assistance, improving the scale and quality of national programmes and supporting governments in innovating and testing new approaches.