Report from Africa: Linking school feeding to agriculture

By Marshall Matz
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

KENYA, May 8- Last week, delegates from 21 countries and key international organizations met in Nairobi, Kenya to “Link School Feeding with Agriculture Development to Maximize Food Security”.  The 2011 Global Child Nutrition Forum was sponsored by the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (of the School Nutrition Association) and the Partnership for Child Development.

There was a strong opening by the Minister of Education from Kenya, Dr. Sam Ongeri who told the delegates that “Education is the great social equalizer but to have quality education there must be quality food programs. Education effects change. Providing one single meal a day brings dignity to the person. An empty stomach is a dangerous thing.”

The delegates focused on several specific areas:

1. Assisting country leaders in developing plans to link school feeding more directly to agricultural production in their countries.
2. Strengthening coordination between the national governments, the private sector, NGOs and the research community.
3. Identifying barriers to, and remedial actions, that can be taken to effectively link agriculture, school feeding and education.

 Together we can feed the Bees
While the goals of the U.S. school nutrition program and countries in Africa and around the world are the same, the challenge in Africa is quite different.  The United States is food secure with food surpluses to share with our schools.  Africa has extreme poverty, food insecurity and an AIDS epidemic.  Medical doctors are forced to grow food to go with the AIDS medication they distribute as the drugs do not work effectively if they aren't taken with food. Life expectancy in many African countries is less than 50 years of age. 

The widely shared belief is that school feeding in Africa is absolutely essential in order to attract children to school, particularly the girls. Without school feeding the girls are kept at home to help out; when meals are provided the parents allow their daughters to attend school.  They marry later, have fewer children and healthier children. As the education level advances so does a child's potential and the cycle of poverty can be broken.

The World Bank and the World Food Program issued a landmark report last year entitled “Rethinking School Feeding” which recognized the essential role a school must play in fighting hunger and attracting children to school by establishing school feeding programs. It has now been reprinted in many languages and is being used as a guide throughout the world. China, it was reported here, has established a “pilot” program to reach 12 million children.

So what is needed next?  In the short run, humanitarian food assistance from the United States and around the world is critical.  Funding for Food for Peace and the McGovern-Dole school feeding program is a high priority.   As an American, it is heart-warming to see bags of Corn Soy Blend (CSB) labeled “Gift from the American People” throughout the world.  The bags literally go from Didion Milling in Wisconsin (our largest supplier of CSB), and other major millers, to the poorest schools in Africa.

In the long run, in order to have sustainable school feeding programs, the focus must shift to agriculture development and boosting production. Yields must increase. One ton a hector is not enough to feed Africa.  It is starting to happen, but there is a long way to go.  The Africa Union has adopted a policy called CAADP asking all countries to devote at least ten percent of their budgets to agriculture and countries are responding. 

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, chaired by Kofi Annan, is a sparkplug here in Africa focusing on seed development, soil improvement, market development, public policy, capacity building and credit in a full court press to grow Africa out of poverty.  They are developing hybrid seeds specifically for Africa and school feeding can be an excellent market for that production. It can be a win- win as it is in the States.  According to Dr. Namanga Ngongi, the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Africa spends $50 billion per year to import food, funds that could be spent in Africa if production increased.

Let's remember that right after WWII, President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act into law “as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being on the Nation's children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agriculture commodities”. 

Under the leadership of President Obama, building upon the PEPFAR program started by President Bush, international development assistance is shifting to a focus on agriculture.  Dr. Raj Shah, the Administrator at USAID, has created a Food Security Bureau to administer the Feed the Future program. The global community is following suit but the size of our deficit is a making it difficult to make good on our promises.  Feed the Future is an investment that stands to pay great dividends both economically and politically.  As Senator Pat Roberts recently said: “A well fed world, is a much safer and stable place that a hungry world.  Full bellies lead to stability, economic growth and peace. Hungry bellies lead to discontent, instability and extremism.”

The consensus, stated repeatedly, in different ways and different languages, was that school feeding is a critical building block to a politically stable and economically secure Africa. The delegates adopted a Call to Action that urged countries to adopt school feeding as a national policy priority in each country and recognized as central to agriculture development, health care, education and national security.  For this to really happen however, the policy goal and this effort must be more closely linked to agriculture and the private sector.  


About the Author: Marshall Matz, former Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, is with OFW Law in Washington, D.C.

The Nairobi Accord: Call to Action

Delegates from 22 African nations attending the Global Child Nutrition Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, May 3-7, 2011,call upon all African Nations to immediately focus on establishing and expanding home grown school feeding programs through legislation and national policies. NEPAD and the African Union are invited to support this call to action.

Hunger is on the rise and there is an immediate and imminent need to feed our children. The United Nation's millennium development goal of cutting hunger in half by 2015 is not on target; the G8 pledge to ‘Feed the Future' has not been fully funded. However, calls by the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) to increase national budgets to 10% of the gross national product for agricultural development is being heard and realized by many African countries. 

Home grown school feeding programs have been shown to improve:
• Education - through improved enrolment, school attendance and test scores
• Health and Nutrition Outcomes - by improving the nutritional status of school-aged children
• Rural Prosperity - by linking school feeding to local agricultural production and small-holder farmers
• National Food Security - by reducing food insecurity within local communities
Home grown school feeding programs are sustainable methods of attracting all children, especially girls, to school, while increasing local agricultural production and stimulating the local economy.

The Forum, attended by delegates from 22 African countries, regional and international organizations, representatives from the private sector and other countries, was hosted by the Kenyan government and co-sponsored by the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (Washington, DC) and the Partnership for Child Development (Imperial College London).
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