This policy brief highlights the key findings and lessons learnt from the research study “School feeding amidst a pandemic: Preparing for the new normal in Asia and the Pacific”, conducted by Oxford Policy Management and commissioned by the World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Bureau Bangkok.
The key research question was: How has COVID-19 impacted policy, design, and implementation and monitoring of School Feeding programmes in Asia and the Pacific region? The region comprises a diverse set of countries which had vastly different School Feeding (SF) programmes prior to the onset of COVID-19. This research sought to answer the key research question through an emphasis on gathering data primarily from six countries in the region where WFP supports SF programmes in different capacities: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India,
Nepal, Philippines and Sri Lanka.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented school closures and millions of children did not receive school meals last year
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 129 million children in the WFP Asia and the Pacific region received meals in school, mainly through national SF programmes (see figure 1).
Coverage rates varied across sampled countries: ranging from 56% of primary school children in Sri Lanka to 15% in Cambodia. A range of modalities were used in the SF programmes in the sampled countries. In Cambodia, India, and Nepal, a hot in-school or on-site meal was provided to primary school children, while in Bangladesh the SF programme predominantly distributed micronutrient fortified biscuits. In Cambodia, the most vulnerable children were also given either take-home rations (THR), or cash, to provide them with an additional incentive to attend school on a regular basis.
Along with in-school meals, Sri Lanka and Philippines distributed milk to some primary school students in selected schools.
In the pre-COVID-19 period, WFP supported the scale-up and transition of SF programmes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Nepal; and provided technical assistance, support to innovation, and advocacy in India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. In Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Nepal, WFP promoted home-grown SF (HGSF), a SF modality that uses locally procured commodities to support small-scale farmers and suppliers.
Across the sampled countries SF programmes served a range of objectives: addressing shortterm hunger; acting as safety nets during crises; ensuring nutrition security; and incentivising school enrolment, attendance, and retention.
Complementary services such as micronutrient supplementation, deworming, nutrition education, menstrual hygiene management, and water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions, – were provided alongside SF, but usually as standalone services rather than as an integrated health and nutrition package.