Well-designed school feeding programs are powerful social safety nets: they bring important benefits in terms of nutrition and strengthen the food security of school children and students while promoting access, participation, achievement and performance, particularly in situations of crisis or great vulnerability.
Moreover, well-designed, sustainable school feeding programs are an effective measure to promote equity and inclusion in the most disadvantaged regions of a country. In addition, they can strengthen overall local food production by providing predictable and consistent markets.
Despite their multiple benefits, school feeding programs face serious challenges in terms of financial and supply sustainability: in many countries, they remain highly dependent on external funding, limited in time and insufficient in volume and, most of the time, supply for the school meals is not based on local production.
Key aspects of sustainable school feeding programs
In order to create sustainable school feeding policies and programs, the following aspects need to be encouraged:
1. Strong political leadership and local buy-in
Strong leadership from political authorities and true local ownership are key to successful integration of school feeding in the national education system. Concretely, school feeding, mostly based on local production, should be fully part of the national public policy and as such be promoted by central and local government actors, as well as local communities, such as parents’ associations and school management committees. The latter should be accompanied and empowered to help implement the programs.
2. Adopting a multi-sectoral approach
Successful school feeding programs require a multisectoral approach, with full involvement and buy-in of multiple actors from different sectors: education, health, agriculture, local administrations, etc. This requires a particularly strong coordination by public authorities, enabled by a strong political will, if possible from the highest-level authorities.
3. Promoting local farming and agriculture
School feeding programs should be deeply rooted in and adapted to the local economic and agricultural context. They should associate local actors and promote local agricultural and livestock production, providing schools with fresh, locally grown food.
Local farming should benefit from specific support to guarantee a sufficient and stable supply in terms of quality, quantity and price, and pay a fair income to local farmers. An approach based on local realities will also allow to identify the most ecological and sustainable responses.
4. Ensuring effective planning…
Implementing a successful school feeding program requires careful planning and costing. As a first step, the country should lead a comprehensive contextualized analysis, including learners’ nutritional needs, educational barriers, opportunities for community involvement, local food production and implementation modalities (food production and transformation, collection and storage, school canteens, vegetable gardens, vouchers, cash transfer…).
These elements should be fully integrated in the national education sector plan, providing the vision as well as operational guidelines for implementation.
For concrete action, the policy should be translated into multi-year and annual action plans at different levels (regional, provincial and local). Including school feeding as part of the school’s development plan will assure local implication and attention.
5. … and realistic costing and management capacities
Medium and long-term expenditure plans need to foresee a reasonable growth path of domestic funding, proportional to the evolution of the number of students. In addition, implementing a successful school feeding program requires significant logistical capacity at the local level, which is responsible for the day-to-day implementation (sufficient skills to lead sanitary quality controls, existence of efficient purchase, storage and delivery chains, as well as financial management and audit competencies).
Together with information on the dynamics of inequities (gender, family’s socio-economic status, urban/rural, etc.), the expenditure framework and multi-year action plans facilitate fact-based decisions on resource allocation for the localities and groups most marginalized. External aid may be required, if full coverage by domestic resources is not feasible in the short term.
Examples of school feeding programs in Senegal and Burkina Faso
In its role as GPE grant agent there, AFD is supporting the implementation of the memorandum of understanding signed between the Ministry of Education and the World Food Programme (WFP). The MoU introduced canteens in 637 rural schools located in areas of high food insecurity. This has helped more than 100,000 vulnerable students return to school (2020-2022).
This successful example highlights several of the above-mentioned conditions for sustainable school feeding programs. Considering the important role that school feeding plays in the development of human capital, the Senegalese government decided to launch a national program of school canteens targeting rural areas and disadvantaged peri-urban centers in order to ensure better learning conditions and academic success.
The program provides for the gradual establishment of all the necessary governance structures both at the central and decentralized levels to ensure sustainability and ownership by the communities. Food is procured through local producers, which stimulated agricultural production and the local economy. Monetary transfers promoted the establishment of a local retailer network.
In Burkina Faso, the ministries of education and of agriculture will launch this year, with financial support from AFD and oversight by WFP, a sustainable school feeding program to provide nutritional relief to more than 90,000 students in targeted localities, all confronted to multiple, simultaneous vulnerabilities.
The following key principles will guide its implementation: close implication of national authorities (central and local levels) and other educational actors; promoting ecological, local production, and use of local products; targeting the most vulnerable students (namely those impacted by the security crisis) and empowering women throughout the production and distribution chain.
15,000 agricultural producers/processors in the school canteen supply chains will also benefit from direct support, as well as at least 300 agricultural cooperatives and their umbrella organizations.