School Feeding Programmes in Africa

The African Union has set aside one day each year as a continent-wide day commemorating school feeding: the first of March. The commemoration was launched in 2016 after an African Union delegation visited Brazil to assess the Brazilian approach to school feeding. This led to the establishment of a collaboration of the World Food Programme (WFP) Centre of Excellence against Hunger with the African Union. The annual commemorations have strengthened home-grown school feeding programmes through high-level debates, including public and private officials, civil society and international organisations. By 2019, 65.4 million schoolchildren received school meals in Africa, a 71 percent increase compared to 2013.

The concept of school feeding refers to meals provided at schools at no cost to the child's family. The World Bank declares that school feeding is "most frequently designed as a social protection net for poor and vulnerable communities with the key outcome being an improvement in education through increased enrolment, reduced absenteeism and enhanced gender equality." Often, school feeding programmes are denoted as social safety nets as they are a means to offer meal aid to poor, vulnerable and food-insecure children. School feeding schemes invariably increase the ability to concentrate and learn.

According to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises, at least one in five people go to bed hungry, and an estimated 140 million people experience acute food insecurity. The food insecurity crisis in Africa is linked to climate change. Africa's climate has warmed more than the global average, and it is noted that climate change has become "the defining issue of our time". Food insecurity leads to child labour, high school dropout rates, rises in sexual abuse, child marriages and street childhood.

Food nurtures children and improves their health and is vital in facilitating access to education by increasing school enrolment, attendance and completion. In addition, the health and educational benefits of school feeding have a lifelong impact. Many countries are increasingly sourcing food for school feeding locally from smallholder farmers to boost local agriculture, strengthen local food systems and move people out of poverty. This is then referred to as home-grown school feeding (HGSF). It deliberately augments the standard school feeding programmes with increased food production, diversification, and economic benefits for local communities.

School feeding nurtures children and improves their health and is vital in facilitating access to education by increasing school enrolment, attendance and completion.


According to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises, at least one in five people go to bed hungry, and an estimated 140 million people experience acute food insecurity. The food insecurity crisis in Africa is linked to climate change. Africa's climate has warmed more than the global average, and it is noted that climate change has become "the defining issue of our time". Food insecurity leads to child labour, high school dropout rates, rises in sexual abuse, child marriages and street childhood.

The most vital and sustainable school feeding programmes respond to community needs, are locally owned, and incorporate some form of parental or community contribution. However, identifying sustainable and protected funding sources remains a critical challenge for many low-income countries. Across the African continent, there is a strong political will to continue to fund school feeding because it is a popular intervention with the public. Not all funding comes from the public purse, and private-sector partnerships are becoming a growing area of financial support.

Article submitted by Samson Mhizha

 

The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.