Colleagues, it is my great pleasure to be here today to share with you the first State of School Feeding Worldwide document.
When I wore another hat, I visited a school feeding program in rural Kenya, where children sat on boulders, in a makeshift classroom, with a tin roof and a dirt floor. The classroom held almost 90 of the most beautiful Kenyan babies that I had ever seen. The tired and overworked teacher enthusiastically stood before the children and without books, chalk, blackboard or other “modern teaching aids” she taught her enthusiastic students songs and their alphabet. I witnessed mothers from the community cooking up cauldrons of a wonderful, intoxicating and alluring rice-based “WFP provided-commodity” dish.
WFP does not perform this work alone, whether it’s with the mothers who cook up the food, the teachers who strive to provide the education, the community farmers who provide the vegetables that helped make that wonderful dish more nutritious, or another UN agency like UNICEF which will work to ensure this school provides the educational opportunity these beautiful children so desperately desire and deserve.
This comprehensive report looks at partners working together to address the challenges of child hunger through school feeding. The report goes beyond WFP operations to explore the work that others perform and it identifies how we, WFP, complement these wider efforts. This is important, because we know that the challenge of solving hunger belongs to everyone. The socio-economic causes of hunger, and its resulting impacts, differ across populations, demographics and geography. In response, our programs are targeted for each context and for every need.
Achieving our strategic goal of eliminating hunger and chronic malnutrition requires us to invest in both girls and boys from their earliest days through to their adolescence. We must help mothers and fathers strengthen their livelihoods. We must work within communities to build resilience. And, we must empower governments to deliver nationally-owned solutions. By nourishing the next generation, we can solve hunger, boost economic growth and empower everyone to develop to their full potential. In all of this, school feeding has central importance and is essential to achieving our goals.
Providing meals to children in school has long been a cornerstone of WFP’s work. Today, almost one-quarter of our beneficiaries participate in school feeding programmes, reaching 25 million children, half of whom are girls, in 63 countries. This work supports education and provides access to nutritious foods for the poorest children. We perform this work with partners including UNICEF, FAO and several national and international NGOs.
School feeding is one of the most adopted safety nets worldwide. During emergencies, we leverage these programmes to reach out. Even today, our teams responding to the crisis in Syria are working with colleagues from UNICEF and UNHCR to create school feeding programs that benefit children and help to restore normalcy to their lives.
Unlike many of our other programmes, we hand over our job in WFP when our partner governments step in and continue the school feeding programme. More than half of current school feeding programmes in middle and low-income countries began with support from WFP. We are truly proud of this accomplishment. Yet there is more to do.
We must remember that we do not accomplish our goal alone. Publications like this one help us to reach out to practitioners and governments. By increasing our knowledge base, by working with a wide range of partners, and by using evidence-based approaches, we create a stronger, more value-added WFP.
We have a clear vision for school feeding. Our vision is to help governments in poor countries develop and sustain programmes that allow children to learn and thrive. To fulfilthis vision we must get ever smarter about how we implement school feeding programs, how we engage with governments as well as how we work with partners.
We are making the right concrete steps to achieve the necessary change.
First, we are working to build national capacity and leverage South-South cooperation. These efforts first began with the launch of the WFP Centre of Excellence against Hunger in Brazil.
Second, we acknowledge the importance of education’s complementary components. We have launched a partnership with UNICEF and UNESCO, called Nourishing Bodies Nourishing Minds - to focus on quality of education. It is crucial that we go beyond just providing food to children. With our partners we will work to remove barriers that prevent children from learning. Children need good teachers, safe classrooms and school books. I ask all school feeding staff in every country to connect with their counterparts to expand these efforts.
Third, we are taking steps to promote local agricultural production. School feeding programmes represent a huge market that can be engaged to support farmers and small businesses, with a specific focus on those run by women. Relying on locally sourced commodities also improves the sustainability of school feeding programmes and increases the potential for ownership by national government. We are strengthening our partnership with FAO and other organizations to help boost links with agriculture. Purchase for Progress is also doing this.
Fourth, we are working to provide children with fresh and locally-preferred foods. When possible, we are introducing fresh fruits and vegetables which will ensure that children in school eat varied diets and foods that are culturally appropriate. Already, fresh commodities are included in food baskets from Armenia to Zambia.
Fifth, we are working to identify how we use school feeding programmes to reach vulnerable out of school adolescent girls. When I recently visited Yemen I learned about the overwhelming number of school age girls who were not attending school. In these contexts where adolescent girls are too often helping at home, working in the fields or becoming wives at an early age – school meals and take home rations provided for a girls regular attendance, help encourage families to send their girls to school. As the data evidence, every additional year a girl attends school leads to girls becoming mothers at a later age, with better chances of interrupting the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.
Finally, we are introducing cash and vouchers where it makes sense, both to empower local school management and in some cases, distributing directly to girls instead of take-home rations. The use of cash and vouchers in school feeding is a reality in ten countries and there are immense possibilities to do more. For example, we just announced a partnership with Canada to pilot a new way of doing school feeding in Kenya. Cash will be sent to schools so they can buy food from local traders or smallholder farmers, stimulating agricultural production in arid areas. Over nine million US dollars will be invested this way.
All of this new learning, together with the new evidence from this report, will be included in our updated school feeding policy and most importantly in our on-going school feeding program activities.
With this launch today, we are well on our way to becoming a global repository of knowledge on school feeding. The experience and contribution of all our school feeding experts in the field, in our host governments, and here today in Rome is essential. Working together with the other Rome-based agencies WFP will continue developing not just better programs but identifying the achievements and lessons learned from our work and the work of other. Our plan is to publish an updated report in two years.
So, please, I encourage you all to come forward today and to share your ideas. We must share the lessons and continuously improve our programs. Together we can capitalise on these findings, we can build on our proven experience, and we can maximise our contribution to the next generation. Those beautiful Kenyan babies and others just like them around the world are depending on us to get this right.