In early 2020, school feeding programmes delivered more meals than ever before, to 388 million children, or one out of every two primary school children worldwide. This historic progress was the culmination of a decade of action by governments and their partners. Even at the record number of children reached in early 2020, 73 million of the most vulnerable girls and boys in 60 lower middle-income and low-income countries still had no access to school meals.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought this decade of progress to a sudden halt, exposing many countries, and socio-economic sectors, including food system as a whole, to vulnerabilities associated with various supply chain disruptions. In April 2020, during the height of the crisis, almost all countries closed their schools, leaving 370 million school children without access to the one meal a day they could rely on. However, from May to October of 2020, more than 70 countries tested various approaches to continue providing food to children even while schools were closed, including through take-home rations, vouchers, cash transfers or a combination of these approaches. These mitigation measures illustrated the value of the meals to children, their families and their social safety net function during crises.
Because school meals do more than provide food, they are linked with other health, nutrition and education interventions that further contribute to human development. School meals programmes combat child hunger, poverty and multiple forms of malnutrition. They provide opportunities to teach children about sustainable lifestyles and healthy diets and can serve as platforms for a more holistic approach to child well-being through the integration of education, health, and social protection.
Children are not the only ones who benefit. School meals programmes can serve as springboards for food system transformation, while simultaneously improving the quality of education. Locally grown food can be a nutritious, healthy and efficient way to provide school children with a daily meal while, at the same time, improving opportunities for smallholder farmers. In countries dealing with crises, school meal programmes can help stabilize communities and enhance resilience.
To ensure that every child has the opportunity to grow, learn and thrive, a group of member states has formed an international School Meals Coalition. This coalition brings together governments, UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and research institutions to drive actions that can urgently re-establish, improve and scale-up school meals programmes in low, lower middle, upper middle and high income countries around the world.
The coalition is not just about feeding children, it’s about unleashing the potential of these programmes to be transformative for the entire community. This can be done by ensuring healthy food environments in schools and promoting nutritious and sustainably produced food, diverse and balanced diets and linking to local and seasonal production where appropriate. The coalition is also about establishing and improving nationally-owned, sustainable and effective programmes.
You can watch the School Meals Coalition launch celebration at the link below