A free school meal once a day, keeps the hunger away

Consider this: One in four of the world's children are stunted. In developing countries this can rise to one in three. One in six children in developing countries is underweight (an estimated 100 million). Across the developing world 66 million children go to primary schoolhungry; 23 million of them in Africa.

And then think about this this: About 90% of the world’s 570 million farms are small-scale. Most are found in rural areas of the developing world, and are owned and operated by families. Many of these farmers are poor, food insecure and have limited access to markets and services. Their choices are constrained, but they farm their land and produce food for a substantial proportion of the world’s population.

So what if we met the demand for nutritional meals for hungry school children by sourcing products from local small-scale farmers who would otherwise be unable to access institutional markets?  In this ideal world, a free school lunch would be provided to every child and local family farmers could improve their livelihoods.

Unfortunately, as the data from the World Food Programme and FAO shows us, the ideal and the reality are still poles apart.

Not so in the PAA (Purchase from Africans to Africa) Africa Programme. The program comprises five small-scale projects which target vulnerable communities facing food and nutrition insecurity in Sub-Saharan countries (Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal and Niger). It combines emergency actions for agricultural recovery and food assistance with development strategies to link smallholder farmers with structured demand.

PAA Africa was inspired by Brazilian public policies regarding Institutional Food Purchase Programs, which have two basic purposes: to promote access to food and support family farming. Emphaizing the importance of local food under an intense policy of “Zero Hunger,” Brazil’s school meal program, PNAE (“Programa Nacional de Alimentação Escolar” or in English “National School Feeding Program”) is playing a key role in the improvement of the country’s food security status, benefiting 42.6 million children and young students in the country.

“In the last 20 years, PNAE moved from being an assistance program to being a program that promotes the right to adequate food, which is now part of our Constitution,” José Fernando Uchoa Costa Neto, of the  Brazilian National Development of Education Fund (FNED) told us at the side event, “Connecting family farmers to institutional Markets”. 

In the PNAE all basic education students enrolled in public schools, charitable and community organizations are given meals for free, funded from the Federal Government through FNED. The program was implemented in 1955 to improve learning, increase the number of students enrolled at school and lift the school performance of students, as well as promote healthier eating habits.

Recently, a change in the Federal Constitution also states that 30% of the funds of PNAE needs to be allocated to the direct purchase of family farming products.

This means that the world’s biggest school meal program is keeping local farmers in business. Family farmers and cooperatives have seen their incomes rise as a result of the program, which guarantees them a local market and has helped to expand formal land rights nationwide (as for instance, the right to formal ownership of land).

The Brazilian Government is now providing training and consultancy to African countries involved at the PAA Africa, supported by the World Food Programme and other UN agencies, as well as private and public partners.

This is one of the biggest examples of South-South cooperation and it shows how dialogue and advocacy can influence policy on public procurement for food assistance.

Let’s hope that the connections between family farmers and institutional markets will continue growing, that governments develop better awareness regarding the importance of these multi-sectoral policies and that people in the developing world will continue to benefit as a result of these kinds of initiatives.

Blogpost Gabriela Martel, #CFS43 Social Reporter – gabrielamartel(at)hotmail.com

Photo Credit: Arne Hoel/The World Bank

This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

21/10/2016 8:42

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