The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) joined the African Union (AU) and countries across Africa to celebrate the Africa Day of School Feeding, taking the occasion to underscore that investments in human capital through school health and nutrition programmes can garner huge pay-offs that extend far beyond the schoolyard.
“Investing in the next generation is an investment in our common future. We see how school feeding programmes are changing the lives of millions of people across Africa and the world – especially girls – and unlocking their potential,” said David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director.
Across Africa, more and more countries have made school feeding a national priority, and over 30 million children now benefit from school feeding programmes across the continent. Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Zimbabwe all feed over one million children, while South Africa and Nigeria each feed more than nine million children every day of the school year. In West Africa alone, governments are investing US$ 500 million a year on school feeding.
School meals ensure that children are healthy and well-nourished, enabling them to attend school, learn, thrive, and fulfil their potential as adults. And preliminary results of a Harvard University analysis show that globally, for every dollar spent on a school meals programme can bring returns of as much as US$ 20.
On top of benefiting schoolchildren, home-grown school feeding programmes also boost rural and local economies, as smallholder farmers find new markets for their produce. And community members, often women, earn an income by preparing meals for children.
The benefits extend beyond local economies, as countries that make human capital investments – including through school feeding programmes – can reap long-term economic benefits. But sadly, today 73 million school children around the world go to school hungry, most of whom – 61 million – are in Africa.
This year marked the launch of WFP’s new and ambitious school feeding strategy that builds on six decades of experience and focuses on the 73 million children who currently receive no school health or nutrition support. WFP has also recently teamed up with UNICEF on a joint initiative focusing on six African countries in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, where the two agencies will provide a comprehensive package of health and nutrition services in schools.
Alongside nutritious meals, schoolchildren will also receive critical nutrition and health interventions such as vaccines, deworming, and water and sanitation and hygiene services. WFP will also continue to support the AU’s School Feeding Cluster in advancing WFP’s home-grown approach to school feeding programmes on the continent.