The heads of the African Union (AU) and United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today hailed the inaugural Africa Day of School Feeding, marking AU recognition of school meals as the world’s most widely used safety net with a vital role in education.
School meals provide critical social support, encouraging more regular attendance at school and contributing to children’s protection in emergencies. They are also a key long-term investment in millions of people’s futures, in local economies, and in reducing hunger across the globe.
“School meals programmes are a vital way to not only increase class enrolment but to also sustain attendance, improve school performance, and to grow local economies,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. “Further, when it comes to encouraging girls’ access to school, adding just one year of school meals is proven to increase absolute enrolment by nearly 30 percent,” Cousin added.
In Africa, more than 10 million children benefited from WFP school meals programmes in 41 countries in 2014. More than half the children assisted worldwide by WFP with school meals live in Africa. Globally, over 370 million children receive school meals in 131 countries, primarily through government systems.
Children attend school more regularly when they are provided with meals there. They also tend to lead healthier and more productive lives. The first Africa Day of School Feeding focuses on Home-Grown School Meals, where local farmers produce food that is then purchased for use in school meals, maximizing the benefits for students, farmers and local communities.
“School feeding programmes are not new to Africa, in fact, some among us became who we are today because of school meals,” said H.E Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
“It has to be noted that the link with local food production is a new approach which is actually a safety net that may be used in accessing food and stimulating local markets. It helps households to invest in productive activities and participate in human development, particularly in the form of financial assistance.”
The leaders applauded the January decision by the African Union Heads of State and Government to introduce an Africa Day of School Feeding and adopt Home-Grown School Feeding as a continental strategy enhancing the retention and performance of students and bringing economic benefits to farmers and local communities.
Such programmes equate to an income transfer to students’ families and economically benefit communities, leading to higher incomes for students as educated and productive adults. Investments in school meals produce remarkable benefits and, according to an analysis conducted by WFP, every dollar spent on a school meals programme can result in a return worth as much as US$3 to US$9.
WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian supporter of school meals, partners with other agencies and governments in 41 African nations on school meals programmes, providing technical and operational support to governments that guide the individual projects and tailor these to their unique needs.
This includes securing primary school children’s access to a balanced, nutritious meal, promoting opportunities to diversify the food basket with local products, and reinforcing skills and good habits in nutrition, health and hygiene.