Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition

FAO cooks up ingredients for healthier and more nutritious school meals

12 December 2019 | Minsk, Belarus – While hunger is on the rise at the global level, in Europe and Central Asia, food quality more than quantity poses a problem for many. A considerable number of adults – and children – suffer from one or more forms of malnutrition at the same time, including stunting, wasting, overweight, and micronutrient deficiencies.

Given the detrimental effects of insufficient nutrition on child well-being, learning ability, academic performance, and future productivity, promoting healthy diets and improved nutrition should be a high priority on school development agendas. To this end, FAO has organized a regional workshop to present and discuss school food and nutrition approaches in Europe and Central Asia on 11–13 December in Minsk. The event is part of an FAO project on Strengthening food security and nutrition in selected countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, funded by the Russian Federation.

Although educational institutions are meant for learning, they provide a unique opportunity to address factors contributing to malnutrition. Discussions at the regional workshop will centre around a broad framework to guide the implementation of school food and nutrition approaches in the region. Also on the agenda will be current country practices, innovative ideas, and possible future directions for governments, development partners, and donor agencies to support the progress of school food and nutrition approaches.

“Comprehensive school meal programmes and other nutrition-sensitive interventions support physical and intellectual development of schoolchildren; and when family farmers are involved, the programme can help rural development as well,” said Mauricio Rosales, senior FAO project coordinator. “The framework developed at the workshop will contain realistic actions for countries, and will guide FAO and donors on increasing institutional, social, economic, and environmental sustainable school food and nutrition programmes.”

In recent decades, FAO data has revealed improvements in the food security situation of Europe and Central Asia. However, pockets of undernourishment and stunting can still be detected in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Iron, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc deficiencies are rather severe, especially among children. This, together with high obesity rates in all ages, reiterate the need for providing more nutritious and healthy diets.

“A limited number of keynote presentations and generous time will allow for group discussions and plenary sessions, and a visit to a school food production facility should facilitate the development of a common understanding and action on improved school food and nutrition,” Rosales added.

Representatives of 20 countries, several partners, and experts will share their different practices on tackling these issues, highlighting the main obstacles, and exchange lessons learned for effective and practical recommendations on better school food and nutrition systems.

Comprehensiveness is an important element of the project to link school feeding with supporting smallholders and local rural economies. This approach, along with other examples, will be presented incorporating agriculture, sustainable value chains and food systems, social protection, education, and trade.

The workshop follows the FAO approach on school food and nutrition that builds on four elements: enabling environment (policy, legal, and institutional), food and nutrition education, a healthy food environment and school food, and inclusive procurement and value chains. An additional crucial element to be realize through this event is the coordination among government, civil society, and the private sector.