Nurturing schools is now the world’s largest social safety net – Global issues

Students have lunch at Shivbhawani Primary School, Deulekh, Bajhang, Nepal.  Credit: Marty Logan
Students have lunch at Shivbhawani Primary School, Deulekh, Bajhang, Nepal. Credit: Marty Logan
  • by Marty Logan (kathmandu)
  • Joint press service

Worldwide, 388 million students, or 1 in 2, were eating at least one meal or snack a day at school before the COVID-19 pandemic in what the World Food Program (WFP) ), quoted from the World Bank, called “largest social safety net. ”

Nepal is in a unique position as it is poised to take over full schooling from WFP, which still serves some remote areas of the South Asian country, by 2024. Canada is also being followed. watched as it is currently taking steps to create a centrally managed program, the G7 country eventually does so, to support the current patchwork of provincial initiatives.

Donald Bundy, Professor of Epidemiology and Development and Director of Global Research Consortium in School Health and Nutritionat the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK.

“Nearly all countries view these programs as a safety net for those most in need,” Bundy writes. “Many see these programs as contributing to the creation of good health and education, and therefore human capital. A significant group recognizes the local economic value to the agricultural sector. A small but growing number consider it important to contribute to environmental sustainability. “

As Covid-19 hit and schools closed, some 370 million students in 161 countries were left without an education and without a meal or snack, “suddenly deprived of what would be for a main meal.” in their day,” said the WFP report Status of school feeding around the world, 2020.

In response, governments, development agencies, donors, academia, the private sector, United Nations agencies and civil society organizations have launched global School Meal Alliance. The organization’s key goals are to restore by 2023 schooling programs lost worldwide due to the pandemic and by 2030, launch new programs to feed 73 million school children Students across the globe lacked school meals before Covid-19.

So far, more than 60 countries have joined the alliance, including Nepal but not Canada. Its success will depend on the choices governments make, says Bundy. “As Covid has affected economies, the shrinking fiscal space makes it more difficult to get back to where it was originally… It seems like countries are prioritizing this investment for generations to come. their future, as indicated by the formation of an alliance, but this has yet to be seen in reality. ”

Nepal has demonstrated its commitment to pre-Covid-19 school feeding. According to a WFP report, between 2017 and 2020, the budget for school meals nearly quadrupled (from $20 million to nearly $70 million), and outside funding fell from $4,500. $2 million to $2.8 million in 2020).

Interestingly, there are no evaluations in Nepal on the impact of school feeding on students’ nutritional status, WFP said. Country School area development plan (2016-2022) calls for “school lunches to reduce short-term hunger among students, while addressing micronutrient deficiencies through fortifying multi-foods and basket diversification.” food, including fresh and locally produced foods”.

While Nepal has significantly reduced undernutrition among children under 5 in recent decades, progress has slowed over the past few years. For example, the 36% prevalence of stunting (too low for age) in 2016 was higher than the developing country average of 25% and the Asian average of 21.8 %.

Today the government diya khaja The (lunch) program covers 71 of the 77 districts and WFP is expected to hand over operations in the remaining districts (already co-funded by Kathmandu) by 2024.

While media reports highlight examples of problems, such as schools handing out dry food to students instead of cooking a hot meal, and the potential for corruption in money handling, the response At recent schools in the Far West province of Nepal is mostly positive. Officials, teachers and parents stress attendance has increased and students stay the whole school day instead of going to lunch and staying home.

Ten local food menus — based on foods that are seasonally available in specific regions and designed to meet nutritional goals — were credited for the change. “Students are now more satisfied because meals change daily. With the WFP system, there is only one entry,” said Principal Dev Bahadur Chand at Nanigad Basic School in Baitadi District.

Chand was the only person we spoke to who was satisfied with the program’s budget of 15 rupees (US$0.12) per meal per child (20 rupees in five remote districts). Others say that while this can cover food costs, it’s not enough to pay for one person to cook or for fuel and transportation.

At the government office of Nepal, which administers the developing program, the Center for Education and Human Resource Development (CEHRD), Director Ganesh Poudel acknowledges the problem. “Each child is given only 15 rupees; This is the main challenge. This amount is very low – prices are increasing day by day and there are administrative costs. How can we survive? We have very limited resources,” he said in an interview at his office.

The other big challenge, Poudel said, is human resources. “Nearly a million people are involved in the preparation and delivery of the school meal program, directly and indirectly. Some will cook, some will manage, some will pay… How can we prepare them? It requires a large amount of money and preparation.”

Although WFP will no longer implement a school feeding program from 2024, WFP will remain a partner in this effort, said Robert Kasca, Chief Representative and Country Director for Nepal. Today, they are working with the government to upgrade the material and human resources for the upbringing of students in the Nuwakot district, a two-hour drive from Kathmandu. The kitchen is under renovation, the menus are developed and the SMS-based system has been tested to track how the Rs15 allocation is spent.

“Our plan for the next five years will be to try to replicate it across the country,” says Kasca. “If we just did it in Nuwakot, it wouldn’t automatically happen across the country. We need to do that in more places to start picking up momentum.”

Debbie Field, Coordinator of Healthy Food Coalition for Schools. Why now? “Essentially every country in the North is facing a new crisis, which is a fast food crisis and a crisis of health problems related to the public food system,” says Field. industrialization.

“First and foremost for me is the food crisis and the way in which parents of all incomes are really having a hard time getting their kids to eat healthy food.” Compared to 1948, when the federal cabinet last discussed school meals, “we have a big difference in the percentage of women entering the workforce and the complete change in the school day for women.” we – most schools have half an hour a day for lunch,” added Field.

In a written response to the questions, Karina Gould, Canada’s Minister of Family Child and Social Development, wrote that the school food policy being developed would “provide access to real healthy, diverse and balanced food as a matter of fairness, which is essential to addressing food insecurity, reducing the risk of chronic disease and enabling every child to reach their full potential. mine “.

Thirty-five percent of funded public schools in Canada offered a program in 2018-2019, including 21 percent of students, kindergarten through 12th grade, found Recent surveys. But coverage varies widely, with one province covering at least 90% of schools, another just 10%.

Field said she is expecting the government to announce $200 million in an upcoming budget to develop the framework for the eventual program. But her coalition wants some of that money allocated to existing programs in the provinces and territories. Ultimately, Field said, the central government should provide $2.7 billion, or half the cost of a universal program, with provinces and territories contributing the rest.

“We want (central government) to take a leadership role in overseeing and providing a federal framework that enables the development of the best school food program in the world. We want them to have the foresight… and they are responding well to the idea.”

This work was supported by the Global Nutrition and Food Security Reporting Fellowship from the International Center for Journalists and the Eleanor Crook Foundation.

© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service

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