Over a hundred technical experts including government officials, policy makers, donor representatives, and researchers from Education, Agriculture, Gender and Social Protection sectors, from West Africa and beyond today kick-started a meeting in Dakar, Senegal to share knowledge and best practices on the implementation of school meals programmes using locally-sourced food.
Led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the two-day high-level conference is entitled, “Investing in homegrown school meals to strengthen human capital, women’s economic empowerment and contribute to economic development”. It offers a unique opportunity for participants to take stock of and shed light on school meals programmes and their impact on countries’ economic growth, food systems strengthening and women’s empowerment.
“Today, it is important to stress that benchmarks in health, nutrition and education make a considerable contribution to economic growth in the sub-region. It has been shown that the introduction of school meals programmes based on local production can, among other things reduce poverty, increase school enrolment, generate income, add value to local products, and promote community cohesion, stability and productivity,” said Professor Fatou Sow-Sarr, ECOWAS Commissioner at the conference’s opening event.
The ECOWAS Commissioner also called on all Member States to work on a school meals model that offers children safe, diversified and nutritious food from local sources.
“School canteens can help to strengthen local food systems, in particular by creating stable markets, stimulating local agriculture and improving agricultural production,” Sow-Sarr noted.
At the end of the conference, technical experts are expected to establish strategic plans that will help national governments to reinforce political support for the adoption of school meals policies while securing financial investments to scale up the programme.
“West Africa has the potential to achieve universal school meals coverage through increased investments in homegrown school meals, “said Margot van der Velden, WFP’s Regional Director ad interim for Western Africa.
“At WFP, we are humbled by the progress made by national governments and remain committed to working with all partners to ensure children have access to education and the nutritious food they need to thrive and grow into productive adults tomorrow,” she added.
Despite Western Africa grappling with multiple and intertwined crises driven by conflict, climate shocks, a slow economic recovery from COVID-19, and the ripple effect of the crisis in Ukraine, ECOWAS Member States feed the largest number of school-aged children in Africa (22.4 million as of 2022, up from 20 million children fed in 2020), according to The 2022 State of School Feeding Worldwide report (2022).
Overall, in the ECOWAS countries, 85 percent of school meals programmes are funded by domestic budgets. These programmes have created over 200,000 direct jobs in 11 ECOWAS countries mostly for women as cooks, food packers, quality control agents, processors and transporters.This confirms that when school meals are locally procured, the school meals programme contributes to strengthening local food systems, building stable markets, and boosting the local agriculture and sustainable supply chains.
“Homegrown school meals are more than a meal,” Van der Velde declared. “They are a gateway to a better, healthier, and more prosperous future, and a platform that nourishes the next generation, creating jobs, economic growth, and longer-term development for entire countries,” she insisted.
Through this regional school meals conference, participants will discuss and share the most recent regional research and evidence, scale, coverage, and trends in school meals in the region. They will also highlight national approaches, experiences, and best practices in homegrown school meals programmes, as well as country-level constraints to scaling up these programmes.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Food Programme (WFP).