Tag Archives: nutrition

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.

Wild food as a safety net: Food and nutrition security during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This blogpost is written by Divya Gupta, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, India; Suchita Shrestha, Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, Kathmandu, Nepal and Harry Fischer, SLU. This article was first published by SIANI.

Andheri Village in Himachal Pradesh, India. Source: Divya Gupta

Edible wild foods have been an important part of the diet for rural populations around the world, primarily in developing countries. They are also an important safety net and contribute to resilience by enabling people to cope with food insecurity in times of rural distress. This has become particularly apparent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have conducted research on food security during the COVID-19 pandemic in the mid-Himalayan region of rural India and Nepal, where nationwide lockdowns were imposed starting last the week of March and continued for several months. The lockdown led to movement of all kinds being sharply constrained, which disrupted the food supply chain and created uncertainty in accessibility, availability and affordability of food. Working with local research assistants, we have been able to continue our data collection and conduct interviews (while following strict government guidelines) thereby providing an in-depth understanding of how the effects of the lockdown unfolded in the areas.

Wild mushrooms harvested by a household in Himachal Pradesh, India. Source: Subodh Kumar (Research Assistant)

Over the past few decades, a large proportion of the populations in our study sites have transitioned to cultivating cash crops. While these trends may have increased household incomes overall, they have led to reduced production of food for household’s own consumption and increased dependence on markets for both food and income. The lockdown constrained farmers’ ability to sell their harvest due to transport restrictions to the market, leaving many of them to face huge financial losses. This compromised the purchasing power of the people and increased their reliance on wild foods such as leaves, seeds, nuts, honey, fruits, mushrooms that they can collect from their communal resources, including forests, grasslands, and water bodies.

Rasnalu Village in Ramechhap, Nepal. Source: Divya Gupta

Edible wild foods have been an important coping strategy for households to deal with food shortages following the lockdown, especially for landless households and wageworkers who depend on off-farm employment. The lockdown has had a profound effect on the employment and income of such households. There were families that could not afford adequate food and reported consuming less food than before.

Rasnalu Village in Ramechhap, Nepal. Source: Divya Gupta

A woman from a landless household with eight family members in a remote village in Nepal told us, “my husband is a construction worker, and he lost his job immediately after the lockdown was imposed. This constrained our ability to buy food to adequately feed our family. I was constantly stressed out about this and often resorted to foraging edible wild foods that I was able to find in our forests”. Another smallholder farmer in India shared, “we did not have enough food left in our reserve when the lockdown was imposed, unfortunately it was also a bad season for our crops as we lost most of our harvest to pest infestation. The wild foods that we were able to gather from our forest was a huge respite and we were extremely grateful for that”.  In addition, wild foods were also a convenient option as some households preferred foraging as opposed to spending money buying vegetables from the market, as an interviewee from a small-landholding household from our site in Rasnalu Village in Nepal shared.

“We occasionally collect vegetables growing in the wild. However, during the lockdown owing to the shortage in supply of fresh vegetables and a consequent rise in their price, we relied more on foraging”.

Wild foods in our sites were also perceived to be safe from contamination. Although not based on scientific fact, many households feared consuming produce bought from the market. “We were scared to buy vegetables from the market because we feared they might carry the infection, so we substituted vegetables with wild foods that we would find in our forests”, said a farmer in our study site in India. He further added:

“Once when I had got vegetables from the market, my mother panicked and immediately threw them away. Market bought vegetables were strictly banned in our household”.

In addition, cooking wild foods was also perceived as a way of continuing traditional recipes. For example, in our sites in Nepal, households procured greens such as stinging nettle, fiddlehead fern, and others that are used as an alternate to market-bought/ cultivated vegetables. “These foods are a part of our traditional recipes that we have been cooking for generations”, shared a female respondent.

Fiddlehead ferns. Source: Rakshya Timalsina (Research Assistant)

It is important to note that under normal circumstances, a lot of the households in our study areas use diverse food sources to fulfill the dietary needs of their family, including farms/kitchen gardens, markets, and communal land and water resources. We observed that at the time of the lockdown, wild foods were particularly important for households that lacked adequate income and/or did not have the option of a kitchen garden. Thus, wild foods have been an important component of the food basket for our sample population during the pandemic

Observation from our research highlights the importance of wild foods as carriers of important cultural values and also their roles in helping households cope with food insecurity in the context of shocks and uncertainty, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Often overlooked as a resilience strategy, wild foods are a vital resource that demands more attention in ensuring mechanisms for managing and safeguarding habitats for their long-term sustenance.

This research was supported by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) research project 2018-05875 and a FORMAS Urgent grant 2020-02781.