In 2009, a school feeding programme based on the National School Feeding Programme of Brazil was launched in Latin America and the Caribbean. Through inter-sectoral policy and legal mechanisms it developed actions for food and nutrition education, and encouraged purchases for the programmes to be made from local farming families. The project began with the collaboration of five countries, and today the number has grown to 14. In 2013, a study conducted in eight of the participating countries showed that the programmes not only promote school attendance and bolster the learning process, but also increase the income of the community’s farmers.
Five years ago, a programme was launched in Latin America and the Caribbean with the goal to provide students with nutritious food, promoting food and nutrition education, and stimulating the local economy. The “Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in the Framework of the Hunger Free Latin America and the Caribbean 2025 Initiative” began with the collaboration of five countries, and today the number has grown to 14.
Feeding, Educating, and Supporting the Community
The project, based on the National School Feeding Programme developed 50 years ago in Brazil, aims to improve existing school feeding programmes by implementing various activities both at regional and national levels. It focuses on strengthening and coordinating school feeding policies with the support and participation of ministers, deputy ministers, secretaries, civil society, community school counselors and parliamentarians. Furthermore, it promotes development by training people involved in school feeding policy, such as managers, administrators, technicians, nutritionists, teachers, and local education coordinators.
In addition to providing the food itself, the programme also promotes education on food sustainability, and places a strong emphasis on making direct purchases for schools from local farming families. This is a key factor in the plan, as it helps to stimulate the local economy. It also takes strides toward breaking the cycle of hunger among farming families by allowing them to sell their products on favorable terms and generate income. In a context of financial, political, and environmental instability, the programmes improve the situation of food and nutritional security.
“This is a triple-win approach: it secures quality food for students of public schools, promotes consumption of fresh and healthy food, and opens new markets and the possibility of higher incomes for family farmers while boosting local development,” said FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva.
Seeing the Results
In 2013, a study was undertaken by FAO in eight of the participating countries, surveying a territory encompassing 18 million students of varying ages and educational levels.
The results were promising. They showed that the programmes reduce the risk of children dropping out of school, that they increase learning and address the issue of poor school performance due to malnutrition and hunger, and that they prevent the worsening of nutritional deficiency. Furthermore, all eight countries surveyed showed an interest in purchasing food for the programmes from family farmers as a way of fostering local development.
The Way Forward
While interest in the programme has grown along with its success, the commitment of local governments is essential to its continued effectiveness. Legal and regulatory frameworks are required to facilitate the integration of smallholder farmers into government supply networks.
“The study shows that tackling the challenges of school feeding programmes requires the involvement of various actors, including governments, parliamentarians, international organizations, private sector, the educational community and civil society,” said Najla Veloso, coordinator of FAO’s regional work in this area.