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School feeding as a core contribution to social security : Analyses and recommendations

In international discourse, school feeding is seen as an increasingly important contribution to social security. Particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school meals proved to be perhaps the most important means of getting many millions of children from poor and very poor households back into school. The founding of the School Meals Coalition in 2021, which currently has almost 100 member states, meant that school meals are now also on the agenda of most low- and middle-income countries.

In practice, however, it is clear that political declarations must be followed by practical steps to introduce nationwide implementation. This includes emphasising the governments’ voluntary commitment through binding legal requirements and, above all, a secure, continuously increasing budget. Very poor countries that cannot immediately afford the transition from isolated school feeding projects to a nationwide programme require (temporary) donor support.

However, this presupposes that there is a medium-term takeover strategy for school meals by the government and state structures are established or existing ones strengthened from the outset, especially at a local level, with the aim of, at least, being able to sustainably secure the procurement of the necessary basic foodstuffs for all schools in their area of responsibility in a few years’ time.

Local procurement (home-grown school feeding) has proven to be particularly effective when comparing the different procurement approaches for the food required compared to centralised purchasing. Local farmers and retailers are the main beneficiaries since, for cost reasons, the aim in poorer countries is to supplement the basic foodstuffs purchased by the state from local farmers with voluntary contributions (e.g. spices, other sauce ingredients, fruit) from the respective community. Local procurement also promotes community involvement and ownership, which also benefits the upkeep of the schools themselves.

As part of empirical studies by the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) at the University of Duisburg-Essen on school meals in the primary and preschool sector in Ethiopia, Benin and Cambodia, the concrete implementation of school meals, which are currently being established throughout the countries, was examined between April and September 2023 using a sample of 56 schools. Particularly concentrating on sustainability, it was determined that the commissioning of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to facilitate the establishment of school canteens should only take place for a limited period of time. In order to guarantee the continuation of the programmes after the donors (and the NGOs) have left, the existing state institutions would have to be prepared very early on to take on the final responsibility for the supply of food.

When setting up a school canteen, it is essential to plan for an adequate water supply for the school and ensure that the kitchen has an environmentally friendly energy supply. Functional kitchens, dining facilities, hand-washing facilities and other sanitary facilities should be planned with the involvement of school management, cooks, parents and any support committees. Similar to fair pay for kitchen staff, these are essential elements of providing pupils with a sustainable supply of hot meals each day.

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