The Food Systems Summit on Sept. 23 was designed as an opportunity to reimagine how food is produced, delivered, and managed around the world. But some things don't need to be reimagined as much as they simply need more attention and investment.
School meals are one such area.
The benefits of school meal programs are undeniable. They keep children, especially girls, in school and help them learn better; improve overall health levels; and generate broad economic ripple effects. In fact, for every $1 invested in school meals, $9 is generated in surrounding economic activity, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
“Talking about food systems means looking at the bigger picture, how food, climate, technology, gender, environment, agriculture and health are connected: how we produce and how we consume,” Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, said in a statement. “Let us never forget that the right to food is a human right. It is our responsibility to make sure that every single one of us has access to sufficient sustainable and nutritious food.”
But school meal programs were not accessible to 73 million children before COVID-19 and when the pandemic arrived, more than 370 million children worldwide lost access to daily school meals.
Recognizing the severity of this crisis, 61 governments and 50 partner organizations launched the School Meals Coalition in an effort to restore school meal programs to their previous levels, improve quality of programs based on knowledge of what works and mobilize more resources to ensure all children are reached. The coalition’s goals include mobilizing $4.7 billion to bring meals to 73 million children of the most vulnerable girls and boys left out before the pandemic.
“The School Meals Coalition is one of the most important initiatives coming out of the Summit,” Ville Skinnari, Finland’s minister for development cooperation and foreign trade, said in a statement.
“Finland is proud to co-lead this effort together with France and the World Food Programme — to improve and restore sustainable school meals programmes around the world and give children the chance to grow, learn and thrive,” he added. “These programs have the potential to transform food, education, and social protection systems.”
The School Meal Coalition recognizes the critical role of governments and aims to optimize how these programs are structured, with a particular focus on working with communities to develop traditionally appropriate meals and support local farmers and commerce – making communities more sustainable and resilient while supporting the health, nutrition and education of children. They also support gender equality by keeping girls in school and local farms and catering companies, which are often run by women.
By using locally produced food, these programs can minimize greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation and storage. They can also incentivize local farmers to invest in regenerative agriculture.
“As part of our efforts to provide safe and nutritious food for all, Guyana has adopted measures to consolidate its national school feeding program,” Mohamed Irfaan Ali, president of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, said in a statement. “We are strengthening the linkages and synergies between consumers and food producers, so as to deliver safe, healthy and nutritious school meals. This will also help provide small farmers with a guaranteed market for a portion of their produce.”
On Nov. 16, the School Meals Coalition will be officially launched and you can watch the proceedings here.