Hunger remains one of the challenges that faces our world today with 925 million people suffering from it. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimate that hunger is responsible for malnutrition of 1 person in every 4 people. Hunger is responsible for 45% of children’s mortality rate in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) state clearly ending all forms of hunger in 2030:
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
The indicators of this goal mention different responses along the supply chain of food including doubling agriculture productivity and diversity and functioning sustainable food production systems to ensuring access to food and ending all forms of malnutrition.
There are many approaches taken in the world from different stakeholders to combat hunger across many fields. The School feeding programmes are just one approach that many international organizations and governments have adopted it as a successful tool of protecting children from malnutrition.
School feeding is used in both low income and developed countries. It gives the opportunity for children to learn and provide them with the daily required intake of nutrients they need for their growth and productivity. There are nearly 368 million children all over the world receiving school meals from kindergarten to secondary school.
According to the Child Poverty Action Group, there are at least 9 Children in Poverty at least of a classroom of 30 students.
The School nutrition programmes are an important tool of ending stunting in Children in Africa. When the children do not receive the essential nutrients in their early years, it affects their growth permanently so an investment in their nutrition is considered an investment in the future of all Africa.
School meals have three purposes; providing protection for the children and their families as they keep the children in the schools and satisfy the nutritional needs of the children to be healthy and productive; they are essential in developing countries as they are the only meal that the child receives through his day in some African countries; they help in maintaining the child enrollment of schools and they increase it for girls into schools as girls are always the most vulnerable group as the families in poverty do not see the relevance in their education so school meals work as an incentive to keep them in schools.
According to the World Bank report “Rethinking School Feeding“, the programmes can be scaled up in crises to secure nutrition for the volunerable communities and not only for the children. Currently, all governments tend to have an exit strategy from depending on external aid to transform it into a national programme.
A group of health and nutrition scientists led by Donald Bundy wrote the framework for Focusing Resources on Effective School Health (FRESH) which provides the four essential elements of designing effective food programmes consisted of four pillars:
- School-based health and nutrition service.
- Safe and sanitary school environment with clean water.
- Effective school health and nutrition policies.
- Health, hygiene, and nutrition education.
We have seen success in all the programmes that considered the four principles of the framework and considered the schools feeding programmes as part of their national strategy for reducing poverty and inequality such as Brazil.
Challenges of implementing the School Feeding Programmes:
The WFP built on the World Bank report and released a report in 2013 explaining how to increase the efficiency of the programmes and what are the challenges that face the implementation from different stakeholders based on case studies from existing programmes.
There are two kinds of School feeding programmes: in school feeding and take home rations which children take some food items with them to their homes and in some countries they are combined to have a great impact on vulnerable children especially girls or children affected by HIV. The two types are different in the inputs and outcomes.
The take home rations is considered to have a social value more than the meals in schools. It has a lower administrative cost and it is designed to reach all the family members which has a broader effect on the all society. Though, the school meals can provide protection for the children in the schools directly which keep them productive through the school day for learning and playing.
One challenge that face the implementation of these programmes is the sustainability of funding for these programmes. They are dependent on income so it takes a great proportion of the budget of low income countries. For example in Zambia, the meals considered as 50% of the budget for the primary education while in Ireland it is only 10% of the primary education budget.
Another challenge is that some programmes do not present healthy food for the children. The director of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in United States criticized the school feeding programmes that provide junk food for the children which is bad for the children health and productivity and causes diabetes and obesity.
Finally, it is important to consider school feeding programmes as part of many other strategies to combat hunger.
Sir. John Beddington mentioned in his wonderful guidelines on ending hunger in the Future of Food and Farming document that there there should be focus on providing data to the governments on hunger as well as the government commitment responding to hunger. There should be an investment in agricultural development. There should be a monitoring strategy on agriculture to record best practices and learn from it. Finally, a strategic prioritization of hunger including innovative approaches of reducing it and championing leaders who take the initiative to combat it.
Finally, School feeding is a tool for bringing food justice to the future generations and a public health perspective that reduce child mortality and increase enrolment of children in schools which contribute directly to achieving the SDGs.
Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Program, summarized the challenges in her TED talks based on her experience and what should the world do in response to the hunger in the world, here is her video: