For the World Food Program of the United Nations (WFP), education cannot wait. School canteens would appear to be the cornerstone in this respect, in various ways. How? By combining nutritional and educational benefits with a positive impact on local economies.
The WFP estimates that around 73 million children in 58 countries go to school on an empty stomach. Other children simply do not attend, because they have to help their families in the fields. For all these children, having food in school every day would mean not only better nutrition, but also better schooling. For the countries themselves, it would mean a more prosperous future. How does school feeding make an actual difference in the lives of children and the poorest countries? Let's try to get a clearer picture.
"School feeding goes far beyond the plate"
As Carmen Burbano explains (Director of the School Feeding Division of the WFP), "School feeding goes far beyond the plate". In fact, school feeding programmes have a positive impact in three main areas: health, education and agriculture. In addition to providing schoolchildren with a regular source of nutrients which are essential for their growth, school feeding has an impact on learning and school attendance. Better-nourished children are more concentrated and more capable of learning. For parents, school meals are a strong incentive to send their children to school. On this subject, Carmen Burbano specifies that "school feeding frees up around 10% of family income for each child fed throughout the year". This is a significant proportion, especially for the poorest families.
As for agriculture, it is also reinforced. By what means? By simply connecting local production to local consumption. In other words, what schoolchildren receive on their plates comes directly from the agricultural production of their region. The result? A stable and predictable market for local farmers. If agriculture is boosted, so is household income. Since farmers are generally parents of children, the children will be sent to school more readily, and will less likely be obliged to work in the fields.
School feeding programmes have a positive impact in three main areas: health, education and agriculture.
Focus on girls and conflict zones
School feeding has a significant impact on girls in particular. "Helping them stay in school, by providing them with daily meals, especially until adolescence, is an effective way to prevent pregnancies and early marriages", explains Carmen Burbano. For children living in fragile or conflict-ridden countries, school feeding provides a sense of normality in traumatic circumstances. It can represent hope for a more peaceful future and greater social cohesion.
To feed our future
Over the past decade, a global consensus has emerged on the lasting impact of school feeding programmes on a country's future. Children represent the future of a country. If there is a positive impact of school feeding programmes on the health, skills, knowledge and experience of schoolchildren, investing in this area becomes crucial in ensuring the prosperous future of any given country.
Governments around the world have therefore decided to invest increasing amounts in school feeding. Today, India feeds nearly 100 million schoolchildren, Brazil 48 million, China 44 million, South Africa and Nigeria more than 9 million each.
Governments around the world have therefore decided to invest increasing amounts in school feeding.
However, despite these significant advances, millions of children in the poorest countries do not receive food at school. To help them, the WFP has implemented a strategy aiming to free them from hunger and poverty by 2030, by providing meals directly to schools or by strengthening government investments in school feeding programmes.
In a nutshell, the WFP is the largest humanitarian organisation tackling hunger around the world. As a front-line UN agency, it helps 80 million people every year in around 80 countries worldwide. To finance its humanitarian and development projects, the WFP relies on various donors, including Belgium.
Children at school today will be adults by 2030. The WFP has given itself just over ten years to help them reach their full potential and leave a global legacy, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of "no-one left behind".