Prioritizing food and nutrition education across the region

School feeding programmes for the Zero Hunger Initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean 2025

30/01/2019 - 

"School meals contribute to greater school retention rates—if food is guaranteed in the schools, parents let children carry on with their studies rather than begin work."


With FAO support, Brazil’s Zero Hunger Initiative was launched 15 years ago with two parallel strategies to fight hunger both in the short and long term. These comprised an emergency response to provide food for the hungry, and a longer-term strategy to improve professional training, reduce poverty and stimulate food production.

Today, the FAO programme ‘Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in the Framework of the Zero Hunger Initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean 2025’ supports, and often implements, sustainable school meals programmes throughout the region. As of 2017 activities were underway in 13 countries: Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to strengthen the institutionalization of school meals programmes regionally and nationally. FAO developed a specialized strategy based on the successes of the Brazil experience.

Covering 5 570 municipalities and 27 states, and assisting 43 million students per day for 200 school days, Brazil’s school meals programme is a point of reference in Latin America and the Caribbean. The main goals of the FAO strategy for its regional school meals programme are to share knowledge to boost human resources and to help create sustainable institutions and policies. “Progress is due to the programme’s style that allows countries to compare experiences and define their own path according to their own strengths and weaknesses,” says Paraguay’s Deputy Minister of Education, “Other technical cooperation programmes don’t achieve that level of empowerment.” In the programme, food for school meals is sourced from smallholder farmers in the community, providing local farmers and businesses a predictable outlet for their products. The result is a snowball effect.

Not only do public school children benefit, but so does anyone with a connection to these students. Moreover, children begin to educate their families, which in turn, educates communities. The programme has made gains on both the policy and human fronts. Established with the human right to food in mind, the programme has now become an integral part of social and governmental policies. Food and nutrition education are now part of the curricula across the region, and school gardens are an educational tool.

The public is encouraged to voice its concerns and to participate in local school communities where experiences are shared. Other notable results in 2017 were the opening of a public market for the purchase of food produced by local smallholder farms and the participation of other sectors of society such as civil society (through NGOs), associations, cooperatives and parliament. In simple terms the sustainable value of a school meals programme is the transfer of knowledge and building of capacity that enable children to have access to healthy diets, which is the root of an active and healthy adult life.

Resource partner: Brazil

SDGs: 1, 2

Regional Initiative: RIL1: Support to the Hunger-FreeLatin America and Caribbean Initiative

Photo: Young student washes her hands before lunch as part of a school feeding programme in Santa Lucia. ©FAO/Patricia Andrade