Home-grown school meals: a tasty investment

Woman cooking school mealsPhoto: WFP/Aditya Arya

Home-Grown School Meals programmes are among the best investments a developing country can make. They bring together school meals and support to local agriculture, to maximize positive impacts on children’s health and education as well as on local economies.

Benefits for children

School meals can have a tremendous and sometimes unsuspected impact. They reduce child hunger and, when providing nutritious foods, they can also improve children’s health and development throughout their growth. They remain one of the best tools to foster access to education: not only do school meals encourage parents to send their children to schools, they also pave the way towards gender equality by incentivizing parents to send their daughters to schools and reducing the rate of early marriage. In fact, school meals have powerful impacts on Sustainable Development Goal 2, but also on SDGs 1: No Poverty, SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being, SDG 4: Quality Education and SDG 5: Gender Equality.

Children sitting at lunch tablePhoto: WFP/Anna Yla Kauttu

Reframing school meals

On March 1st, the African continent celebrated the third Africa Day of School Feeding in Harare, Zimbabwe. The event marks Africa’s commitment to promote an enabling environment for school feeding in policymaking and governance with discussions on the use of multi-sectoral mechanisms to include school feeding in national development plans.

Under the theme “Enabling governance to advance African children and youth full potential through promoting sustainable school feeding programmes”, this year’s event reframed school feeding as an investment, not merely the spending of resources. A Cost-Benefit Analysis carried out by the World Food Programme (WFP) in 15 countries providing school meals showed that, on average, every dollar invested in school meals generates a US$6 economic return. This return includes both short and long-term benefits from improved health and education among schoolchildren and, when reaching adulthood, increased work productivity.

Student eating school mealPhoto: WFP/Nguyen Duc Hoang

The wider benefits of school meals

School feeding has short-, medium- and long-term dividends for children throughout their demographic transition. Recent findings by Professor Donald Bundy highlight that while the first 1,000 days of life are a critical period for a child’s nutrition, the following 7,000 days– from 2 to 20 years of age – aren’t any less important, as it is a period during which it is possible to make up for missed growth. 

School meals are often delivered as part of the Essential Package, a set of affordable school-based health interventions, all of which help to maximize the quality and quantity of schooling. In this respect, the Essential Package constitutes an important investment in a child’s future.

The use of locally grown food drives good nutrition as schoolchildren are fed meals that are nutritious, diverse and culturally suitable. Home-Grown Schools Meals also strengthen local agriculture by increasing the income of farmers and providing a ready and stable market for their produce. Strategically managed Home-Grown School Feeding will spawn value chains for local agriculture, catalysing innovation and entrepreneurship.

Home grown school meals Photo: WFP/Ricardo Franco

Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, summarised this concept stating:

“The African Union further commits to ensure children are well nourished, to guarantee their ability to concentrate and learn, and ensuring [a] sustainable source of food supply through increasingly involving local [agricultural] support, engag[ing] in efforts to intensify its support to member states in the design and implementation of national, innovative school feeding programmes.”

Next steps

As champions of Home-Grown School Meals, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and WFP also celebrated the March 1st event. David Beasley, WFP Executive Director, gave a speech highlighting school meals as a powerful formula building ties between children around the common meal and “changing the world for peace”. The three agencies announced the imminent publication of the Home-Grown School Feeding Resource Framework, a technical reference document for governments to scale up national programmes based on accumulated experiences across the globe.

Get involved in the International School Meals Day 2018:

Group of students in SyriaPhoto: WFP/Dina El Kassaby