A Global Village
Issue 3 » In The Field

Home Grown School Feeding

Smallholder Farmers Providing Local Food for Local Children

Kristie Neeser, Imperial College London

Sixty million children go to school hungry every day in developing countries. Children that don’t eat don’t learn.

School feeding programmes exist in all sub-Saharan African countries. However, whilst these programmes seek to reach and feed all children, they are often too small, unsustainable and unable to offer nutritious food.

In the same communities, smallholder farmers, often unable to reach a market, struggle to make a living selling their food. The solution is clear: local food for local children. From this, a new revolution is underway, known as ‘Home Grown School Feeding’ (HGSF).

As part of its role as a global leader in school health and nutrition programmes the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College is working with governments, communities and agencies to enable effective and sustainable HGSF programmes feeding millions of children every day.

Over half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1 per day. Two-thirds of the population make their living in agriculture and 70% of these smallholder farmers are women. As farmers struggle to make a living, they must contend with overused soil, small parcels of land, crop diseases and unstable markets; this means that despite their labour, millions of farmers find it hard to make a living.

Home Grown School Feeding programmes provide an opportunity to benefit both schoolchildren and small¬holder farmers by creating a stable, structured market for local produce. The advantages of linking local agriculture and school feeding are substantial: more prosperous small¬holder farmers, with a more secure future; stronger rural communities, with more stable economies; increased de¬mand for local, fresh food; and healthier, happier children.

Healthy children learn better. School health and nutrition (SHN) interventions have been shown to improve not only children’s health and nutrition, but also their learning po¬tential and life choices both in the short- and long-term. As such, they are recognised as making a significant contribu¬tion towards countries’ efforts to achieve Education for All (EFA) and their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Global Momentum for Linking Education, Health and Agriculture
Over the past decade, HGSF programmes in sub-Saharan Africa have been driven by national governments. In 2003, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) of the African Union launched a pilot HGSF and Health Programme. That same year, African governments included locally sourced school feeding programmes in NEPAD’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

In many low-income countries, school feeding programmes have also been a critical part of the response to the global economic crisis. The World Bank and World Food Programme are already partnering with a number of countries to scale up school feeding programmes and other food-based safety net interventions, with the aim of helping countries transition to sustainable national programmes with domestic financing.

Building on this momentum and in response to requests for technical assistance, the Partnership for Child Development (PCD) has launched a new five-year initiative that is supporting government action to deliver cost effective HGSF programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.

Children are more likely to
stay in school, providing
them with a healthier and
better-educated future

The initiative, supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, engages with a wide range of stakeholders to provide direct, evidence-based and context-specific support and expertise to governments. This will aid in designing and managing effective school feeding programmes that are sourced with local agricultural production. Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, and Nigeria are already implementing programmes and the demand from other governments in Africa is growing.

Country Action on HGSF in Africa
But one HGSF size does not fit all. As country settings differ, governments are developing context specific strategies to address the various needs and beneficiaries that have been identified. This is highlighted in the three examples below.

The HGSF programme run by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in Kenya provides one example of the local food for local children concept in action. Community members are supplied with agricultural inputs such as irrigation, fertiliser, seeds and training. Local schools then purchase food from these smallholder farmers to supply the meals programme. This benefits the schoolchildren while providing a stable and predictable market for the farmers.

The national programme in Cote d’Ivoire feeds over a million schoolchildren every day and features strong links with local women’s groups. Similar to the MoA programme in Kenya, groups of women farmers are provided with agricultural inputs as well as land. From their produce, one-third is kept for consumption, another third is sold on the market for income generation, and the final third is supplied to the school feeding programme.

Empowerment and skill development for women is also a key feature of the HGSF programme in Osun State, Nigeria. Over 2,600 jobs have been created for women who purchase food on the local market and then prepare meals at the schools. A community-based process for hiring the cooks is also in place, whereby local community members, traditional leaders, parents and teachers are all able to participate in nomination and selection. With this decentralization, strong monitoring exists at the grassroots level – in this way, parents and children are able to provide feedback, for example they can report whether the one egg included in the menu per week has been provided. The Osun State HGSF programme has also featured strong domestic financing, with 40% of funding provided by the state government and 60% by the local government.

Strengthening the Evidence of the Multiple Benefits of HGSF
Despite recent efforts, there are several important gaps in our current knowledge about the optimal implementation and measures of effectiveness of HGSF, especially given the potential multiple impacts. Many of the educational benefits of school feeding have already been established, including improved enrolment, attendance, educational achievement and cognition. However, less is known about areas such as the nutritional impact of using local foods, entrepreneurial opportunities across the supply chain and income gain for smallholder farmers. Additionally, complementary activities such as school-based de-worming and nutrition education could provide further opportunities to address common health problems of school-aged children in a comprehensive manner.

Complementary activities
such as school-based
deworming and nutrition
education could address
common health problems
of school-aged children.

With the complex and cross-sectoral nature of HGSF, further research is needed to enable evidence-based decision-making about programme design and targeting. Building on the world-renowned research expertise of Imperial College, PCD is currently working with countries to conduct rigorous impact evaluations. These are aimed at bridging the knowledge gap on the links between school feeding and the food systems value chain that begins with smallholder farmers.

This strengthened evidence base is feeding into the ongoing development of country technical assistance plans, which outlinw needs and target beneficiaries as well as provide opportunities for technical assistance activities in order to strengthen national HGSF programmes. As many countries are currently in the process of transitioning towards locally-sustainable government-funded implementation of school feeding programmes, now is the opportune time to link with smallholder farmers.

Such linkages can provide subsistence for farmers who can gain access to a stable market and provide fresh, nutritious food for local schoolchildren, improving the livelihood of the community and increasing rural prosperity.

Kristie Neeser is a Doctoral student for the Partnership for Child Development at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. She works with Home Grown School Feeding and school health and nutrition more broadly.

Leave A Comment