Monthly Archives: February 2021

Embracing a better future through school feeding

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, intern at SLU Global & Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU. The content is based on her experience in participating in a Committee on World Food Security (CFS) 47 Side Event and thoughts on it.

Having participated in the CFS 47 Side Event on ‘How COVID-19 affected school feeding programmes and how to strengthen them post-COVID, including through home-grown school meals’, I realised the importance of having a school meal system. Besides, I have been able to contemplate the necessity of prioritising school feeding even amidst a scenario where schools are closed and students are getting adapted to distance learning currently.  

Providing school meals has been one of the main prevailing initiatives to ensure food security for children. Thus, I believe school meal programmes can be considered as a vital step taken by several countries to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal ‘Zero Hunger’.

School meals as a factor beyond food security

In the event, different international professionals with hands-on experience spoke about many positive impacts on the society by school meals, beyond ensuring food security. Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Trade, Finland, said; “Providing nutritious food in schools is among the best investments for the future”. Evidence gathered from Finland indicates that “school meals produce high returns in terms of education results, gender equality, health, social protection and economic and agricultural development”. The minister highlighted that, Finland suffered from poverty after World War II and had low literacy rates. In such a situation, school feeding became a transformative innovation to attract children to schools and to increase their literacy rate.  He also emphasised that, school meals in Finland provide one-third of a person’s daily nutrition requirement.

The discussion among the practitioners further revealed that the school meal is a key factor to initiate especially girls’ education. Indirectly, school feeding programmes have also become significant in reducing female child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Additionally, providing nutritious school meals is also a crucial matter of uplifting the nutrition status among girls.

Furthermore, Samuel Mulinda, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Rwanda stated, “having a meal in the school is a right to every child within the government of Rwanda” and it has been nearly a decade since Rwanda initiated school feeding. Recently, they embraced a new policy to expand the school feeding system in the basic education levels. A new scheme includes a procurement method to give easy access to purchase food from local smallholder farmers. Accordingly, school meals have become a source of stabilising the agricultural market system within the local economy.

Will it still be feasible during the pandemic?

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

While countries like Rwanda, Brazil, USA, Finland, India, and many others all over the globe are having different school feeding programmes, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in 2020. Many governments had to shut down schools completely or partially for the safety of children. Yet, it wasn’t the end of school meals. Even if the schools shifted to distant learning, some countries modified their systems to maintain school feeding. The event unfolded how Finnish municipalities adopted providing in-kind food or food vouchers for children during the pandemic.

Moreover, Bruno Costa e Silva, National School Feeding Programme Analyst, National Fund for the Development of Education, Brazil, stated that Brazil implemented a programme to distribute school meals during the crisis. The involvement of municipalities and civil society organisations is remarkable in executing this programme. He also highlighted the significance of incorporating smallholder farming into the school feeding system. He described how in the state of Amazonas, food production and food supply for school feeding is continuous under family farming during the pandemic. It is also essential that public policy should be in favour of smallholder farming and home-grown school meals. Besides, Paola Barbieri, Project Analyst, Brazilian Cooperation Agency, drew attention to the important role played by South-South Cooperation in continuing school feeding programme in Brazil.

Furthermore, Lindsay Carter, Director, USDA McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, USA, spoke about the strategies utilised under the McGovern-Dole Program to stabilise school feeding in the needful countries. The programme is actively engaged in providing commodities and technical and financial assistance to school feeding. During the COVID-19 crisis, the McGovern-Dole Program shifted to distribution of take-home rations to children while monitoring the processes. Additionally, the programme upholds collaborating with national governments, local smallholder farmers and communities to safeguard school feeding.

Start, if there isn’t; Continue, if there is

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis followed by the pandemic definitely, providing school meals is a critical task especially, in the most fragile countries. Nevertheless, considering the numerous benefits that can be reached through school meals, I believe countries should consider continuing school feeding. In the countries where there were no school feeding programmes, it would be best to lay a stepping stone to start at least now. Specifically, in the countries where children are suffering from stunting, wasting, anemia and many other health issues due to malnutrition, initiating school feeding will be an extremely positive investment for the future.

When implementing the programmes, strategies may differ from country to country. However, as the experts in the event stressed out, school feeding programmes can be reached through national and global collaborations. I also firmly believe in the benefits of prioritising local smallholder farming and incorporate it into the school meal programme. Moreover, well-coordinated collaborations between intranational institutions are also essential to initiate such a scheme.

This way, we still can prepare to embrace the post-pandemic world with a healthy and educated generation. Nonetheless, it is up to us to decide how we are going to embrace the future. Are we going to give the future of the world to a weaker generation or to a stronger generation? I’m sure you’ll find it as food for thought.

What’s cooking at CGIAR?

Photo credit: UN Sustainable Development Goals

SLU has a long tradition of partnerships with the CGIAR, both at the institutional and individual scientist-level. The CGIAR is the world’s largest agricultural research and innovation network with 8 000 staff globally, focused on agriculture in low and middle income countries.

The CGIAR is currently reorganizing and has launched a new research and innovation strategy with the aim to transform food, land and water systems in a climate crisis. The One CGIAR vision for 2030 is a world with sustainable and resilient food, land and water systems that deliver diverse, healthy, safe, sufficient and affordable diets, and ensure improved livelihoods and greater social equality, within planetary and regional environmental boundaries. Climate change and the climate crisis is at the forefront of the new strategy that describes the food systems challenges in the contexts of six major regions across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia and Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The strategy targets multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and strives to achieve measurable benefits across five Impact Areas: (1) Nutrition, health and food security, (2) Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs, (3) Gender equality, youth and social inclusion, (4) Climate adaptation and mitigation, and (5) Environmental health and biodiversity. Three-year investment plans are set up for 2022-2024 and a number of CGIAR Initiatives (research programs) are under development. These initiatives will replace the previous Research Programs (CRPs).

The CGIAR will work with regional and national partners including universities and research institutes, business actors, and international partners. Scientists at SLU together with partners in low- and middle income countries from collaborations in research and capacity development are well positioned to contribute to this work. SLU’s global policy for Agenda 2030 points to several opportunities for cooperation between SLU and the CGIAR to contribute to the SDGs. To facilitate and support the dialogue between scientist at SLU and the CGIAR, a one page capacity statement based on SLU’s policy and the CGIAR strategy is made available here.

For more information, please contact the authors:
Ingrid Öborn, Professor at the Department of Crop Production Ecology, ingrid.oborn@slu.se
Ulf Magnusson, Professor at the Department of Clinical Sciences’, ulf.magnusson@slu.se
Sara Gräslund, Head of SLU Global, sara.graslund@slu.se

Navigation towards food security and nutrition through a rice-based agri-food system

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, intern at SLU Global & Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU. The content is based on her experience in participating a GOBESHONA (7th) Global Conference Session.

Image by Nandalal Sarkar from Pixabay 

I would not argue with the fact that life is not the same amidst this global pandemic affecting almost all the global citizens. Yet, I believe that acquiring knowledge should not be hindered by that. For me, it has been a great experience having the chance to participate in GOBESHONA Global Conference session on ‘Innovations in the Rice-based Agri-food Systems to improve Food Security and Nutrition’.

GOBESHONA (7th) Global Conference on ‘Locally Led Adaptation’ was hosted by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) online from 18 to 24January 2021. This particular conference session listed under the category of Food Security & Agriculture lead by Mahjabeen Rahman, programme coordinator, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) consisted of three presentations, out of which two drew my interest the most.

Ensuring food security while combating nutrition deficiency

The presentation; ‘Healthier rice for healthier future’ was presented by the affiliated personalities at the IRRI and Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI); Ibrahim Saiyed, Bangladesh Country Manager of Healthier Rice Program, Ahamed Salahuddin, Consultant and Syada Munia Hoque, Senior Specialist of Nutrition. They brought up the discussion on introducing ‘Golden Rice’ and ‘High Iron & Zinc Rice’ by IRRI to Bangladesh not only as a stimulating factor of food security, sustainable rural livelihoods, and economic development, but also as a solution to country’s prevailing micronutrient deficiency.

Golden Rice is developed by adding Beta carotene gene from yellow maize into ‘BRRI dhan29’, which is a high yielding rice variety already cultivating in Bangladesh. The Beta carotene gene in Golden Rice which converts into vitamin A in human body specifically addresses the substantial issue of vitamin A deficiency. The High Iron & Zinc Rice is formed through adding Ferritin-1 genes from apple, kidney bean and soybean into rice variety ‘BRRI dhan28’. The composition of High Iron & Zinc Rice results in high concentration of iron and zinc, which helps to tackle the iron and zinc deficiency amongst people in the country.

As a result of existing significant level of poverty or extreme poverty in Bangladesh where vulnerable people cannot afford a proper nutritious diet, subsequently the general public suffers from malnourishment. Since rice is a staple food in Bangladesh, the presentation upheld promoting Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice as it would be an ideal solution to combat so-called issues. Even though, a deployment strategy for these varieties of rice is arranged, dissemination of them among the agricultural sector is still under process of receiving regulatory approval.

The content was appreciated, as it is a constructive solution to fulfil the dire need of the country. Nevertheless, the question raised from the audience was, why this administration procedure in Bangladesh is still lagging behind in a context where, international actors like Australia and New Zealand (2017), USA and Canada (2018) and Philippine (2019) have already approved Golden Rice? It was even suggested that the IRRI should communicate and collaborate with the authorities to expedite the approval process. Besides, it was proposed to have more advocacy through scientific, research and policy education in promoting these varieties. Moreover, the requirement for an awareness discussion on the nutrition level of these rice varieties even after processing (polishing) and cooking was also depicted.

Acquiring food security through machine-sown Direct Seeded Rice

The next presentation; ‘Directly-sown rice to address labour and energy constraints to precision rice establishment’ was delivered by M. Murshedul Alam, Scientist, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA)-III project, IRRI. He highlighted the ‘machine-sown Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) in Aus technique’ in rice cultivation as a possible solution to address the issues such as labour shortage, water scarcity etc, in Bangladesh. ‘Machine-sown DSR in Aus technique’ is a method of planting rice directly in the field by spreading seeds using machinery instead of transplanting. Transplanting is the traditional method, where the seeds are sown in a different place first and once the seedlings are ready, they will be planted in the puddled field manually or mechanically.

Several comparative evaluations were presented between different rice planting methods such as ‘machine sown DSR’, ‘hand broadcasted DSR’ and ‘manual transplantation’ in relation to the quantity of yields, landscape positions, labour use for land preparation etc. Accordingly, except in the lower landscape, ‘machine sown DSR in Aus technique’ was projected as the most probable alternative in both higher and medium landscapes in Bangladesh. This technique optimises the profit with a higher yield together with a lower requirement of water and labour.

Apart from that, CSISA-III is also involved in awareness raising programmes among the community regarding ‘DSR in Aus technique’ such as providing subsidy and conducting training on machinery usage etc. Thus, the usage of this technique was mostly acknowledged by the audience while highlighting the necessity of development in technology to cater sustainable agriculture and food security.

Manual transplanting on puddled soil. Image by Nandalal Sarkar from Pixabay 

Seeing a better future or not?

As a final remark, I view these attempts presented in these presentations as very much constructive propositions in dealing with food security and nutrition amongst all the challenges Bangladesh is currently undergoing. Especially, I also consider that, promoting Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice together with machine sown DSR in Aus technique within the agricultural sector are frugal and credible initiatives in expansion of a rice-based agri-food system in Bangladesh.

On the other hand, as I am having roots in Sri Lanka, I believe introducing Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice even to the rice cultivation and national diet in Sri Lanka, will be a healthier option to strengthen the country’s food security and nutrition more. Particularly because, Sri Lanka being located in the South Asian region same as Bangladesh, having similar tropical climate conditions, having almost the same monsoon rain-based rice cultivation seasons and with rice being a staple food in both countries I see the possibility of paving the way towards this alternative in Sri Lanka.

At the same time, I believe, these tasks will not be simple, especially because, adopting and adapting to these innovations among the general public seems time consuming. Thus, in order to realise them and to make them sustainable, a lot of stable groundwork have to be laid. Apart from that, health and food can be considered as interdependent entities. In order to be healthy one needs to have nutritious food whereas one who is not in good health has difficulties in accessing and utilising nutritious food. Therefore, accomplishment of all these initiatives will also depend on the success of the country in controlling Covid-19 pandemic as currently, it managed to destabilise the ordinary livelihoods of people, not only in Bangladesh but also in the whole world.