Food for thought

The world produces enough food for everyone. Fact. Not only that, but world agriculture produces 17% more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70% population increase. This means that there’s enough food to provide every person on the planet with 2720 kcal a day. That’s more than enough for a grown man, with a surplus for kids and babies. I don’t need to go on, I don’t need to tell you that hunger still exists today and I’m not going to ramble on with statistics. Instead, I would like to point my torch towards the glorious idea of school meals.

Writing about international development can be tiresome and disheartening, especially when change isn’t happening where change is due. School meals are not one of these topics. In the UK, we send our children to school knowing that they will receive a meal at lunch time, regardless of a child’s background. Not only that, but over time they are becoming healthier and their bodies are getting what they need. Circumstances are different in the developing world: often kids go to school hungry and receive no food while they’re there. That’s why so often they skip school in search of something to eat.

School meals are a brilliant way of channelling nourishment to poor children who would otherwise go without. The World Food Programme (WFP) school meals take the form of a mid-morning snack or nutritious breakfast, using fortified food to guarantee that children get the micronutrients they need. Meals subsequently enable more effective learning, boost school attendance levels (doubling primary school enrolment in the poorest parts of the world) and decrease the chances of children staying home to work.

School meals, therefore, don’t only tackle hunger and nutrition; they benefit education, gender inequality and broader development issues, making the school meal program a worthy investment, rather than a charitable cause. The idea is so simple, but hugely effective and the World Programme (WTP) knows this:  it is the biggest provider of school meals in the world, and in 2008 it fed 22.6 million children across 68 countries in the developing world. This is not yet enough, with more effort needed to get the poorest girls into school, and millions still hungry, but it is a great start and a great feat so far.

You may be wondering by now of the cost of all this? That there must be a reason something so straightforward has not already been utilised universally? Well, you may also be surprised to learn that the cost of providing one child with a school meal is $0.25. School meals, therefore, are not only simple and effective; they’re cheap, successful and are one of the best investments a government could make in its next generation.

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3 responses to “Food for thought

  1. I wish things were that simple. I was born and raised in a third-world country (Colombia, South America). I also went to Medical school there and saw the most horrible things. The corruption in my country is so high, that we don’t even have enough schools for our children. In Colombia, 40% of the people live in extreme poverty.I don’t have the statistics about education, but I can say that most of them are illitetarate. The Government is so corrupt that the money for hospitals and schools is not sufficient to supply the demand. Besides the corruption, we are a country that have been in an armed conflict for the past 40 years, and adding to this, unfortunately, we had one of the most devastating floodings in the history of the country a few months ago. Thousands were forced to move to the cities and beg in the streets.
    We have children in the streets, barefooted and undernourished. We can be in latin America, but we have Marasmus and Kwashiorkor; diseases that people think are only in Africa. During my internship I had several patients dying of starvation.
    The school meals are great, and some NGOs already have diners in these areas…but it is not enough. It is a start and I appreciate that. The southwest part of my hometown is one of the poorest areas of the country. They have several missions from The Netherlands, Belgium and Swirzerland providing meals and health care to the needy.
    I’m no longer in Colombia. I live in USA, but my dream is to come back and create a school and meals in one of these shanty towns. I will do it.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I empathise with you and agree that school meals are not enough, but they are certainly a step in the right direction. Corruption is difficult for international institutions to address and will remain an uphill battle for the unforeseeable future. The investment in school meals seems black and white, but governments create a grey area through lack of investment/corruption and this is why the work that WFP and others do are so valued, as they bypass the government by providing aid directly to the people that need it most.

    For things to change significantly and positively, governments definitely require more transparency, better governance and to be void of conflict. But until they are, NGOs can only do so much for the people of developing countries.

    I wish you the best of luck with your dream.

  3. Pingback: World Food Day « Tamsin's Talking Point·

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