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Social innovation: tackling poverty through home grown school feeding programmes

After two weeks in Brazil, members from the governments of Republic of Congo and Bangladesh finalized their study visits and participaion in the V International Seminar on Social Policies for Development.

The first week of learning sessions took place in Brasilia from 3rd-5th October. Meetings with government authorities, such as, the General-Coordinator for Actions against Hunger of the Ministry of External Relations, Minister Milton Rondó, gave the delegations an overview of Brazilian social protection context. They also participated in field trips to smallholder farms and cooperatives and schools in both rural and urban contexts.

During the Seminar, during four days, the participants had the opportunity to understand the historical context, legal framework and intersectoral integration of different programmes like PAAV International Seminar (Food Purchase Programme), School Feeding Program (PNAE), Bolsa Familia (Conditional Cash Transfer), the Unified Social Assistance System (SUAS), the National Food Security System (Sisan) and the Brazil without Extreme Poverty Plan, among others. During the sessions, participants got to know details of the Brazilian School Feeding Program and its linkages with smallholder agriculture. 
They also visited EMATER office (Rural Extension and Technical Assistance Enterprise), Low cost restaurants, Smallholder farmers, Rural schools, Cooperatives, the Reference Centre for Social Welfare (Cras) and they could exchange information with all the stakeholders.
In the last day (Thursday, Oct 11th) they participated in the debate around Action Plans for each country. The WFP Regional Director for East Africa, Stanlake Sankange emphasized the importance of South-South Cooperation in development policies. He says that the Rural Extension and Technical Assistance services are key to the development of these programmes in the countries.
Man holding the hand of a small childThe high-level delegations were composed of five Ministers: Minister Afsarul Ameen (Education/Bangladesh), Minister Emilienne Raoul (Social Affairs/Congo), Minister Rigobert Maboundou (Agriculture/Congo), Minister Hello Matson Mampouya (Education/Congo). These high-level missions aimed at understanding elements of Brazilian social protection programs that can be useful for the design and implementation of poverty reduction strategies in their own contexts. 
In the last day (Thursday 11th), the Bangladesh Delegation composed by the Minister of Primary & Mass Education Dr MD. Afsarul Ameen,  government and WFP officials visited two schools in Formosa, State of Goias, to learn more about the implementation of the school feeding programmes at local level. This visit was organized by WFP Centre of Excellence Against Hunger. The delegation had the opportunity to meet the Secretary of Education of Formosa Ms. Ione Magalhaes Antonini and to discuss about different aspects of PNAE. During the visits to the schools Liozinho and Orlandina de Castro, the group was also able to observe school meals being distibuted to children. In addition, they met directors, teachers, cooks in each of the schools. The republic of Congo delegation members went to visit the Social Assistance Reference Center in Paranoá and the Low cost restaurant in Itapoã. Both delegations finalized the day by making a presentation on their Action Plans, including follow-up activities and further steps. 
“Let’s invest and believe in people, they are the solution”- this is how the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger (MDS) opened the doors of Brazlândia, small county in the suburbs of Brasilia, to the delegations from Bangladesh, Republic of Congo, Haiti, South Africa and technicals from WFP.
The PAA (Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos - or “Food Acquisition Programme”) promotes the access to food to millions of Brazilians in situations of food insecurity (read here the joint FAO/WFP/IFAD report entitled “State of World Food Insecurity 2012”, released on October 9th 2012). According the report, 852 million people in the world are undernourished, Brazil is taking a step forward, advancing fast: the figures show that, during the years 1990-1992 and 2010-2012, the total of undernourished in Brazil decreased from 14.9% to 6.9 %.
The field trip was organized by the WFP Centre of Excellence against Hunger in Brasilia and MDS. The delegations were fascinated by the Brazilian solid foodfood growing on a tree distribution program, as well as school meal programme. They visited a distribution centre, where food is taken there (mostly locally grown vegetables and fruits) and distributed to local chains supermarkets and to public schools. As the visit went on, they listened to the director of a public school in Brazlândia where the food provided to the students (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is purchased directly from family farmers.
During lunch time, where fresh typical Brazilian food was served, including rice & beans, they had the chance to speak with some of the visitors and exchange points of view on their social programs compared to the Brazilian context:  “I am impressed by the transparency, the shared responsibilities, the common objectives and the Brazilian governance, where the government, states and municipalities are all involved in the implementation of social programmes and where they all contribute to the achievement of providing food to schools”, said the Ministry of Agriculture of Republic of Congo – Mr. Rigobert Maboundou. “In a world where children can give a lot to society and where they can really contribute to making a positive impact, the nutritional requirements of a child must be met, to keep him focused, energetic, able to learn and to grow in a healthy way”, adds the Congolese Ministry of Education, Mr. Hello Matson Mampouya.
“After the earthquake, where the UN made a significant contribution in helping us to rebuild, we are now a young group, hard-working and motivated, who came here to listen and prepare a plan of actions to implement in our country and provide school meals in our primary schools” - Mr. Desir Frisnel explained us, project coordinator of Aba Grangou, National Program Against Hunger and Malnutrition in Haiti. “We are learning a lot and hopefully we will try to create a model based on the Brazilian successful practices in our own country”.

Mr. Bablu Kumar Saha speaking at a conference

Mr. Bablu Kumar Saha, Project Director of the School Feeding programme in Poverty Prone Areas in Bangladesh talked to us after lunch. He listed Bangladesh’s school meal programme achievements: created in September 2011, the programme has managed to reach and cover 1.4 million students of primary schools, for a total of 3 million schools providing a package of 45 micronutrient fortified biscuits to each of them. The willingness, the target of the Bangladesh government is to reach all the 17 million primary school children located in the poorest areas of the country by 2016, a challenging goal but a promising future for Bangladeshi children.
Showing a strong commitment to his work, Mr. Bablu also manifested some perplexity regarding the financial issues concerning the execution of these social programmes. “The WFP has been giving us an enormous help in terms of technical support and capacity building. Our Government, along with some NGO’s and some European institutions are giving a hand, but we need donors who stick with our case and help us build a better future for our children, the generation of tomorrow.
The World Food Programme is showing a high commitment for socioeconomic and human development causes, analyzing, researching, planning and implementing effective strategies for food assistance, school feeding, support to agricultural smallholders and farmers and for the creation of strategic partnerships. To view WFP latest Annual Evaluation Report, please click here.
However, as Mr. Bablu finally said “we are trying to get the message out so the world will know about our situation and hopefully we will fight together for this cause”.
By Gaia Paradiso