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.