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School Feeding is the most important social programme in the Dominican Republic

Mr. Victor Castro, executive director of the National Institute of Student Welfare of the Dominican Republic, believes that it is necessary to strengthen this policy in the country and institutionalize it.

Paulo Beraldo

Mr. Victor Ramón Castro, executive director of the National Institute of Student Welfare (INABIE by its Spanish acronym) of the Dominican Republic, began the interview with RAES platform by getting straight to the point: in his view, school feeding is the most important social programme developed in the country and should be strengthened. 

“We want it to be institutionalized, to be regulated, so that it is not at the will of governments, and that it becomes a true state policy, with the purpose of never again having a malnourished child in an educational center,” he said.  

Mr. Castro a chemical engineer who graduated from the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD by its Spanish acronym), also commented on the importance of a legal framework for school feeding and said that he sees the Brazil-FAO Cooperation as a great ally for sustainable development in the region. 

What were the main achievements of the technical mission carried out in June by the Brazil-FAO Cooperation and FAO with experts from different countries? 

One of the most relevant aspects was to socialize the actions within the school feeding programme (SFP). To, not only, gather and meet all the actors, but also to articulate with related sectors that directly influence the programme. We all had the opportunity to agree on the same plan, towards a concrete direction. This mission was a great opportunity to further strengthen the SFP, which is the most significant programme by the Dominican Republic. Also, it is already a great achievement to have united all these intentions towards the search of improvements to this fundamental programme. 

How do you assess the importance of this assistance and the technical support of FAO and the Brazil-FAO Cooperation for the development of the school feeding programme in the Dominican Republic?   

The most positive part is to be able to work with experienced organizations, like FAO-Brazil and other countries, because we can replicate their good experiences in the Dominican Republic. Exchanging practice and knowledge is of utmost importance and a great help to keep growing and expanding. Although we have not reached the total student population in the country, we do think that we must universalize this programme. 

We hope that in a near future, we will be able to extend the SFP during holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as well as vacation periods, because from Monday to Friday is not enough. Additionally, we must maintain, strengthen, and universalize the nutritional impact this programme has. Also, we must work to expand and prioritize the most important programme that we promote in the National Institute of Student Welfare (INABIE by its Spanish acronym).  

Do you consider important to develop a legal and regulatory framework for school feeding in the Dominican Republic? 

We should institutionalize these programmes that often depend on the will of those who are in charge, and the only viable way is through a legal framework. We have the great advantage that in the Dominican Republic Congress, we have found deputies that echo these needs. 

There is a group of legislators working on a preliminary draft of a law. We want to institutionalized it, so that there will never be again a malnourished child in an educational center.  

Do you think that managers and technicians training is important to contribute to the improvement of school nutrition? Do you think that the participation of DR professionals in the Healthy Life course contributes to the development of the topic in the country? 

We can never underestimate training. We must maintain continuous training for our school food collaborators and food suppliers’ chain. Moreover, monitoring and supervision training is especially important; considering all actions, from the supplier’s kitchen to the school´s dining room. 

The training and assistance that FAO and the Brazil-FAO Cooperation can offer us are vital. We are planning training workshops for suppliers since this is an area where we have weaknesses. Also, we are going to work on improving the competitiveness and training conditions, so that the children receive food in the healthiest way, with safety and quality, and the nutrients they need.  

You have spoken about the relationship with suppliers, how do you assess the link between school feeding and family farming?  

As we feed our children in a nutritious way, we also aim to impact the family and the territory. One of the best ways to achieve this is by hiring suppliers from the same place where the schools are located. We are motivating and incentivizing these suppliers to buy inputs from family gardens and to get families more involved. These actions boost the local economy and makes the fresh produce supply more effective. 

There are about 600 thousand families that are directly impacted, saving money on lunch because their children eat it at school. This is great because it positively impacts the child, but also her or his family, and the territory, since local products are consumed. We even have pilot projects for the development of school gardens that can be replicated in our territories so that most of the schools can supply some of their cooking needs within the environment.  

Is there an issue/experience related to school feeding that the Dominican Republic is developing and would like to share with the RAES? 

We have a mechanism called the Integral System for Food and Nutrition Surveillance, (SISVANE by its Spanish acronym). These are measurements that we take periodically in schools to verify the real impact that food is having on schoolchildren. With this system, we can identify some information in nutritional terms and take the necessary measures, such as modifying the menu and adding food supplements that can compensate for nutritional weaknesses recorded at the school. 

The SISVANE also helps us to introduce children to specific diets: If there is obesity and overweight, we direct them to a healthier diet, body exercises, and other actions. It is a system that helps us make more effective and efficient decisions in terms of nutrition, allowing us to verify the effect that the food served has in schools. In addition, it is vitally important to monitor and observe the impact and incidence of this great investment made by the Dominican State in school nutrition.