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Guatemala’s school-feeding law prioritizes child nutrition and family farming

18/01/2018

FAO’s technical, advocacy and political incidence efforts in Guatemala have helped make the case for sustainable investment in child nutrition through school-feeding and public purchases from family farming, an approach which led to the approval of Guatemala’s school-feeding law, which has been granted nationwide scope and an earmarked budget.

More than an investment in increased food and nutrition security for elementary-level school children, the school-feeding law, approved last September and due to be implemented in the coming months, also represents a long-term social protection commitment by the Guatemalan government to this otherwise vulnerable age group.

More nutritious and sufficient school meals will help keep food insecure children in school and ensure their proper cognitive and physical development, thanks to healthy school menus facilitated by locally sourced fresh ingredients from family farming. Moreover, the local linkages between schools and family farmers in their vicinity will allow for school menus that are conscious of cultural norms and regional dietary preferences.

“It’s a major achievement for Guatemala, and it speaks volumes on the country’s commitment to invest in its children, their health, and their schooling. We are talking about an inter-sectoral approach in which students, parents, teachers, different line ministries, local municipal authorities, private sector actors, and local producers are involved,” said Diego Recalde, FAO Representative in Guatemala.

FAO in Guatemala will continue its efforts to expand the school-feeding programme to all 22 of the country’s departments. This national reach is set to benefit 2.5 million school children across 33 000 public schools nationwide, with an earmarked annual budget of 1 350 million Quetzales (USD 184 million) for this year.

"FAO has been a key organization in the approval process of the school-feeding law, and it has been an important element that has allowed for more actors to join this initiative. FAO has remained keen throughout the entire process to provide technical assistance and to ensure that decision-makers in this topic have access to information on other successful [school-feeding] models in different countries in order to guarantee a successful implementation of the Law in Guatemala," said Óscar Hugo López, Minister of Education of Guatemala.

Increased budgetary allocation and nationwide coverage

Guatemala’s school-feeding law takes the previous national budgetary allocation for school meals from 1.11 Quetzales (USD 0.15) per child per school day up to 3.00 Quetzales (USD 0.41) by the start of 2018 – followed by a further increase to 4.00 Quetzales (USD 0.54) slated for 2020. The increase will help guarantee more nutritious meals and more adequate portions and combinations for schoolchildren aged 6 to 12, and take into account their specific calorie, protein, and micronutrient requirements.

This law puts into motion the pillars of sustainable schools from the school-feeding and public purchases model propelled in the region by Regional Cooperation Programme on Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in the Framework of the Zero Hunger Initiative 2025 in Latin America and the Caribbean as part of the FAO-Brazil International Cooperation Programme.

The fact that those five pillars – inter-sectoral coordination and social inclusion; food and nutrition education and school gardens; improvement in school infrastructure; adopting healthy and culturally sensitive school menus; and direct public purchases of food items from local family farming – are complementary and not mutually exclusive ensures the active involvement of parents, schoolchildren, producer organizations, local authorities, private sector partners and school administrations in working together towards a model that associates healthy diets with academic performance and combines family farming livelihoods with more consistent demand for fresh produce.

Guatemala will now join Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras and Paraguay as the group of countries in the region with approved laws specifically geared to school-feeding.

Tapping into fisheries and aquaculture to improve child nutrition

In tandem with FAO’s work in Guatemala scaling up the sustainable school model from five pilot schools in San Marcos and another five in Huehuetenango (Western Guatemala) in 2014 to 420 schools in the San Marcos, Huehuetenango, and Chiquimula (Eastern Guatemala) departments in 2017, complementary efforts to integrate fish foods into school menus are underway. 

Fisheries and aquaculture in Guatemala accounted for some 28 000 tonnes of produce per year in 2010, a significant decrease from 43 000 tonnes in 2000. The latest estimates for the 10 year period also suggest that almost 70 percent of all produce was exported and that the number of recorded fisher folk was around 37 000 throughout the capture, processing, and commercialization phases, with many more potential employment opportunities likely to remain untapped. Still, Guatemala ranks among countries with the lowest consumption per capita of fish in the world (at around 2.4 kg per person per year; 10 percent of the worldwide average per capita consumption). Fish is not only a significant source of protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and essential vitamins and minerals, but their consumption in schools also represents a timely approach to empowering small-scale fisheries and limited-resource aquaculture producers and an incentive for sector policies and market linkages to meet local demand.

With Guatemala’s chronic child malnutrition rates hovering at 46.5 percent for children under 5 years of age (the highest rate in the region and the fifth highest worldwide), a low consumption of fish limits a valuable opportunity to combat malnutrition, especially in rural and predominantly indigenous communities, where chronic child malnutrition increases to 53 and 58 percent respectively.

“Our convening power as FAO has been central to building strategic partnerships between actors on the ground and local authorities to promote and scale up school feeding, but it doesn’t stop there. We also took a look internally, at our own FAO projects, and saw vast potential in joining efforts with other FAO initiatives in other parts of the country so different productive sectors could act on the potential of selling to schools. Fisheries and aquaculture is one such sector”, said Byron González, School-feeding Project Coordinator for FAO in Guatemala.

Creating sustainability: from pilot field projects and strategic partnerships to national public policy

FAO’s political incidence and technical guidance alongside key actors in the Ministries of Education, of Agriculture, Livestock and Food, and of Health, as well as in the Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security, helped create the momentum and discussion platforms necessary for the consultations and congressional deliberations that led to this national commitment to tackling childhood malnutrition, with a special focus on primary school students in rural areas with the highest malnutrition and food insecurity indicators.

“We recognize our specific competitive advantages as FAO, a leading knowledge and technical hub for food security and agricultural development. We ensure that all field projects, piloting initiatives, technical missions, and communication and advocacy efforts complement one another and create strategic contributions to the policy momentum needed at country level. This way, a successful model in the field can be transformed into a sustainable and budget-backed piece of national legislation,” Diego Recalde added.

Meeting the demand: Empowering smallholder productive capacities

The law’s overarching contributions are twofold: improving child nutrition and education on the one hand, and empowering the country’s close to 2.5 million smallholder farmers on the other, promoting linkages between the production and demand for fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, grains, and other food items that the more than 33 000 public schools nationwide will need to feed their students.

With a mandatory 50 percent of direct public purchases by schools for their menus due to come from local smallholder farmers, this steady demand will improve producer incentives and create synergies between smallholder supply and local school demand. Developing smallholder productive capacities could translate into as much as 675 million Quetzales (USD 92 million) worth of direct public purchases to Guatemala’s family farming sector in 2018 alone. The economic impact of empowering family farming as a foundation for inclusive rural development is only expected to increase, as the law specifies that by 2022 the percentage of direct public purchases to smallholder farmers should increase to at least 70 percent.

In light of Guatemala’s school-feeding law, FAO will continue working alongside key government partners at departmental and municipal levels to accompany the scaling up of school feeding nationwide. FAO will likewise continue to provide technical assistance to help connect smallholder farmers to new markets as a cross-cutting approach to integral rural development, with a view to tackling Guatemala’s high poverty rates (59 percent overall, 76 percent in rural areas), marked household food insecurity levels (77 percent overall, 84 percent in rural areas), and the high number of undernourished people (16 percent of the population, or 2.5 million Guatemalans).

Read the original press release.

Read more about FAO’s work on school-feeding and on the FAO-Brazil International Cooperation Programme here

Visit FAO Guatemala’s photo gallery on school-feeding and school gardens and watch the video on the use of school gardens in Guatemala as an educational tool for food and nutrition security.

Read other latest news out of FAO in Guatemala and from the Latin America and Caribbean region.