March 1 st 2016 became a historical date, as the first African School Feeding Day was celebrated for the first time. That was after the chiefs of State met at the 26 th African Union Summit Meeting, in January to decide on adopting the Brazilian model of school feeding as a continental strategy for improving attendance and performance of students and also promoting the generation of income and enterprising in local communities. “Certainly, there are many countries in Africa that have accumulated experience in this field, but what Brazil has done is noteworthy. The fact that the country has come off the hunger map in such a short period of time is spectacular”, states Martial De-Paul Ikounga, Africa Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science, and Technology.
“When considering food security and malnutrition, certain public policies have proven to achieve good results, even in extreme diversities, such as is the case in Africa, and certainly school feeding is certainly one of these policies”, confirms Daniel Balaban, director for the Center of Excellence Against Hunger of the World Food Program (PMA). According to him, school feeding — or Home Grown School Feeding, in English — generates income for family farming and makes it possible for schools to adhere to a platform for promoting feeding diversity, provide healthy meals and nutrition. “This is a strong incentive for families to continue sending their children to school, contribute to the reduction of child labor, and early marriage and pregnancy, and help to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty”, he argues.
Niger was chosen as the first host for the African Day of School Feeding by its leadership in promoting school feeding linked to local agriculture in African countries. Since 2012, the Center of Excellence Against Hunger supports the government of Niger in the implementation of its National Policy of School Feeding. “The school feeding has improved attendance and scholastic performance of students, especially in rural zones. These good results have encouraged us to expand the school feeding project and adopt this innovative model”, reveals Ali Mariama Elhadji Ibrahim, the Niger Educational Minister. This experience made it possible for the minister to mobilize other educational ministries to create a network of school feeding. The network began by uniting Francophones countries in Africa as now there are over 20 members. In August, 2015, this group was in Brazil. “We saw men and women engaged in improving the nutritional condition of not only students, but also in the entire community. We were impressed by the articulation of the participants and institutions, ranging from the federal level to the municipal and community levels. The results from all these efforts have been the improvement of socioeconomic indexes”, reminds Minister Martial De-Paul Ikounga who also accompanied the entourage. “We have seen the entire infrastructure behind the program: the organization of the school eating places, legal structure, federal, state, and municipal involvement. This tells us about how wealth and riches are distributed in the national territory”, she tells. “We have also seen the law being put into effect that defined 30% of the federal budget for school feeding assigned to purchasing foodstuffs from family farming. We know that some of the local personnel abide by the law and others do not, but in any case, we see that something is being done. We must demand school feeding policies from ministers to improve the relation to other ministries and request support from the government of other countries”.
In fact, establishing a public policy for purchasing foodstuffs from family farming is not a simple task. “Large-scale agriculture and family farming have distinct objectives. Thus, the most concrete challenge for each one of these countries is to adapt their feeding system, so that it favors the family farming system. And this requires the involvement from other sectors, such as planning and finance”, and this is what Marcos Lopes points out, who is the Humanitarian Cooperative Program Advisor of FAO jointly with CGFome — General Coordination of Humanitarian Cooperation and the Fight Against Hunger, a body connected to the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affair. “The governments need to understand that local purchases cannot be controlled by a sectorial initiative only related to school feeding, but it must be a public policy achieving results in the economy, education, food security, in agricultural and rural development”, he says.
“We have enormous contradictions internally. And these contradictions tend to be also exported. It is very difficult”, the general coordinator of CGFome believes, Minister Milton Rondó Filho. “Social protection is fundamental. It is not an expense, it is an investment. The returns from it are very important. Our challenge here has been to find a way to convince our finance ministers. We have made a great effort to show this as an investment, as it displays a very important replicating effect”. The Brazilian minister has also revealed there is an international articulation for empowering the measure adopted by the African Union. We are creating a network of research institutions on food security and nutrition. We already have one in South America, as we have created one for the CPLP countries (Portuguese Language Speaking Countries) and now the idea is to create a worldwide network for the purpose of improving the interaction between the government and research, teaching, and extension institutions”, he says. Besides that, Rondó also has participated in other discussions focused on food security. “Capital has its logic and that is profit. For this reason, we defend at FAO, the diversification of crops instead of growing a monocrop and also we are against the usage of transgenic seeds”, he says.
Before the announcement of the African Union in January, Brazil was already a partner in five countries in pilot-projects. In Ethiopia, Senegal, Malawi, Mozambique, and Niger are purchasing from local family farming for school feeding with support from CGFome and the Center of Excellence Against Hunger of the World Food Program. “Telling someone that a methodology works is one thing, but if you work together with someone to apply that methodology, that is even more important, it is very different”, defends Marcos Lopes. As the decision of those African leaders is to start a series of projects and achieve repercussions that go beyond just celebrating of the African School Feeding Day.
The African Union Summit Meeting decided in creating a multidisciplinary technical committee of African specialists to provide support for the Center of Excellence Against Hunger of the World Food Program to perform a general study on the relevance and impact of school feeding in the member countries of the African Union. “The first step will be to perform a feasibility study on the aspects that has made Brazil so successful: assistance to family farming and funding. We have seen it is necessary to count on resources from the country itself for this type of action, as well as a national law and political willingness”, tells Martial De-Paul Ikounga, from the African Union. “It is very important to provide diffusion to this initiative. We also would like to get suggestions, counsel, and other proposals for improving the monitoring of these projects”, the general coordinator of CGFome explains, Minister Milton Rondó Filho. He also celebrates the decision of the African Union. “The inspiration is from Brazil’.
In 2014, the Governor of Niger brought 800 tons of agricultural foodstuffs.
Since the beginning of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Brazilian Government defined that a child must be registered and attending school as a sine qua non condition for the family to receive any type of governmental aid. After that, the school took on an important role for the Brazilian government powers by becoming one of the main vectors in social transformation. That started the creation of the Food Purchasing Program (PAA) that made it possible to purchase foodstuffs produced by family farming and do away with the bidding process. And together with other measures for social protection, Brazil managed to reduce the number of undernourished people by 82.1% from 2002 to 2014, according to data from the UN. That decrease is the largest ever registered among the six most populous nations in the world, and also the best average in Latin America that was 43.1%.