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Countries innovate during the pandemic to continue offering school feeding

During the international meeting of the Healthy Life course, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru and the Dominican Republic presented the changes and adaptations in their school feeding programmes.

Brasilia, July 20, 2022. The health crisis caused by COVID-19 made many countries change their school feeding supply and, in a certain way, ‘reinvent themselves’. This was the case of Colombia, Guatemala, Peru and the Dominican Republic, countries that had to innovate in their school feeding programmes during the pandemic period. The experience of the 4 countries was presented during the II International Meeting of the 3rd edition of the course School Feeding as a Strategy for a Healthy Life, held on July 14. 

The course is an initiative of the project Consolidation of School Feeding Programmes in LAC, executed by the Brazilian Cooperation Agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (ABC/MRE), the National Fund for Educational Development of the Ministry of Education (FNDE/MEC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), within the framework of the Brazil-FAO International Cooperation Programme. 

Najla Veloso, project coordinator, began her participation in the event by detailing the importance of school feeding during the pandemic, stating that this policy is an efficient strategy to guarantee quality food to around 20% of the population of the countries. She stressed the role of public purchases from family farmers and the implementation of food and nutrition education strategies to strengthen this policy and guarantee its results. “In recent years, we have seen very important advances in school feeding programmes throughout the region. I would like to highlight in this event the cases of Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru and the Dominican Republic,” said Najla, adding: “It wasn’t like that a decade ago. This was built by the efforts of all of you”.

Israel Ríos, FAO nutrition officer, presented the updated data on food insecurity in the region, where 56.5 million people could not obtain food to satisfy their needs. In addition, he mentioned the excess of obesity, the growing overweight and the role of school feeding as a policy to promote healthy eating habits, from an integral look at nutrition and fostering purchases from family farming. “For this reason, it is very important to strengthen the technicians and managers of school nutrition in our region“.

The voice of the countries

The virtual event had the special participation of the Minister of Education of Guatemala, Claudia Ruíz Estrada, who highlighted the relevance of the link between school feeding programmes and family farming. She pointed out that the menus must have cultural relevance, respecting what is produced in the community and the local culture. According to the minister, lists of healthy menus are prepared annually and are validated jointly.

With the health crisis, deliveries of food were made in portions to the homes of Guatemalan students, with ministerial agreements to allow this coverage to be maintained. Estrada added that, as of 2023, the entire education system of Guatemala will be served by school feeding. “We have dedicated time to maintain the school feeding program as the government’s star program and to be able to strengthen it. This year, the budget has been expanded and for the next one, not only the budget is expanded, but the coverage will also be expanded to reach all of the students“.

From Colombia, Luisa Mora, representing the Special Administrative Unit for School Feeding (UAPA), presented the resolutions that allowed the provision of educational and food services during the pandemic, with modifications to the technical, administrative and standard lines of work of the SFP. Mechanisms were adopted to guarantee the stability of resources, increased transparency to allow the monitoring of the use of resources, in addition to new tools to promote the participation of small local producers in public food purchases.

From the Dominican Republic, the work of the Integral System for the Food and Nutrition Surveillance of Schools (SISVANE) standed out. SISVANE monitors and measures the nutritional impact of the school feeding program in the country. Lucía Vázques, representing the National Institute of Student’s Welfare (INABIE), explained that it was possible to develop specific strategies for each school center according to the needs of students, especially in the face of problems such as obesity, overweight and nutritional deficiencies. In the 2019-2020 period, more than 16,800 students were evaluated. 

The executive director of Qali Warma, Freddy Hernán Hinojosa, said that there have been financial transfers from the central government to the local governments, allowing the purchase of products that were distributed to families. He said that professionals were trained on biosecurity measures to avoid contamination. Hinojosa explained about the decree that made the Qali Warma program able to provide food to people in vulnerability. “Qali Warma, with the participation of other entities, contributed to serving thousands of tons of food throughout the national territory“, said the director. The program served just over 4 million Peruvian students in 2021, in over 64,000 educational institutions, in addition to providing 25,000 tons of food for vulnerable populations, a work coordinated with 518 local governments.

The course 

In its third edition, the international course aims to strengthen the skills of professionals in the areas of nutrition, education, health, agriculture and others for the development, implementation and follow-up of food and nutrition education actions in the framework of the school feeding programmes. 

In addition, the course seeks to promote reflection and understanding of the importance of school feeding as a strategy to promote the Sustainable Development Goals (ODS), food and nutritional security, education, health, nutrition, social protection and environmental care, including in the context of a pandemic and post pandemic. In its previous editions, the course trained around 5,000 professionals from the region. 

The final webinar of this edition takes place on July 27, at 3:00 pm (Chile time), with simultaneous translation into Spanish and Portuguese.

This content was originally published in the website of the Brazil-FAO Cooperation