To ease hunger and feed dreams, serve school meals: IFAD at the “USDA McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program and WFP School Meals Partnership” side event

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On 15 November 2017, the World Food Programme (WFP) hosted a side event about an important topic: school meals for children. In partnership with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, as well as the Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement Program (LRP), the WFP’s event looked at the critical impact effective school meal programming can have.

Chaired by Mr David M. Beasley, Executive Director, WFP, and Ms Jocelyn Brown, Deputy Administrator, Office of Capacity Building and Development, USDA, the event’s takeaway message was clear: Not only do school meals reduce hunger, they also improve school literacy, education and nutrition for school children in low-income, food-deficit countries around the globe.

IFAD’s NEN Director, Dr Khalida Bouzar, also spoke at the event, describing the importance of school meal programmes from IFAD’s perspective. “Thanks to our work in this field, we already know that school feeding yields economic benefits,” said Dr Bouzar. “These include improved incomes and access to markets, as well as social, such as health benefits. Better nutrition improves educational opportunities and outcomes.”

“School meals help communities, both in the short- and long-term,” she said.

Other speakers included Mr Steven Were Omamo, Director of Food Systems, WFP, Mr Günter Hemrich, Deputy Director, FAO Nutrition and Food Systems, and Ambassador Haladou Salha, AU-NEPAD Senior Technical Advisor. Among other topics, they looked at potential entry points for strengthening the Rome-based Agencies (RBA) collaboration, when it comes to home-grown school feeding.

In her comments, Dr Bouzar also highlighted the importance of the Home-Grown School Feeding Framework Resource. The document, which links school meals to local agriculture, emerged from the Rome-Based Agency agencies (RBA) collaboration. “RBA collaboration is a building block for the ongoing UN reform as well as the Agenda 2030,” said Dr Bouzar.

In fact, to strengthen RBA collaborative efforts further to support countries in developing cohesive policy frameworks, IFAD is hosting a technical consultation meeting on 1 December. This IFAD event will bring together all institutions involved in the preparation of this resource framework to agree on the next steps, as well as options for follow-up at country level.

To illustrate the importance of school feeding programmes, Dr Bouzar used the example of IFAD’s current grant project in Tajikistan1.

“Food insecurity and malnutrition is high in poor households in the Khatlon region, especially among children,” said Dr Bouzar. “Child malnutrition is being addressed by WFP’s School Feeding programme, which complements the government’s social safety nets by providing daily school meals, country-wide, with fortified wheat flour, vitamin-enriched oil and iodized salt.”

The School Feeding Support Project in Tajikistan seeks to benefit school children enrolled in classes 1-4, complementing the WFP School Feeding Programme by increasing the supply of fresh, locally grown produce for school meals.

“Diversifying diets with nutrient-rich vegetables grown in school gardens also has significant potential to further strengthen the entire school feeding,” Dr Bouzar added.

IFAD’s comparative advantage, when it comes to improving the nutritional content of school meals, derives from its experience working with different tiers in regional administration and civil society. This includes agricultural production platforms, social infrastructure and nutrition mainstreaming.

The Tajikistan project design draws on this comparative advantage, both in the short and long term. The project will work to improve the nutritional content of school meals, and to increase the agricultural production potential of the communities on a sustainable basis.

The event speakers noted that there is increasing scope for a more proactive field-level coordination involving RBAs, other partners and the private sector. “This program could do more than just resolve hunger,” said speaker David Beasley. “Feeding children will allow us to get to the root causes of forced migration, ethnic and religious strife, violent conflicts and wars.”

“Why school meals?” said Jocelyn Brown, summing up the event. “It’s not just about literacy, food security, hygienic practices, sanitation, health, rebuilding schools and educational systems, women’s empowerment and local and regional community involvement.”

“It is about all these targets combined.”

1/Starting in 2018, the three-year School Feeding Support Project is financed by the Russian Federation and is valued at USD 1.5 million.