Vulnerable children are among the most affected groups by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of schools as a result of social isolation measures not only affects their learning processes but also threatens the food security of millions by jeopardizing the continuity of school feeding programmes (SFP). According to the World Food Programme (WFP), 32 out of 33 countries in Latin America have closed their educational centres, resulting in 85 million children at risk of losing access to school meals. For about 10 million children, food consumed at school was one of the most reliable daily sources of food.
Fortunately, SFPs in Latin America showed their capacity to adapt and react to shocks, and 21 countries in the region have managed to adopt strategies allowing programmes to continue. Most countries (17) delivered food so that it could be taken for consumption and/or preparation at home. Another five countries changed the form of the benefit, temporally replacing the SFP meals for cash transfers or food vouchers. Other cases, such as Colombia, have taken mixed approaches to face the crisis.
Whatever the form of adaptation adopted, governments had to find quick answers and face several legislative, coordination and logistical barriers. The steps of these responses and strategies to overcome these challenges in Colombia, Honduras and Peru were discussed in the webinar entitled "Adaptations of School Feeding Programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean", which was the 16th event of Social protection responses to COVID-19 webinar series and took place on June 23, 2020. It was co-organized by the World Food Programme, the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
The webinar featured expert presentations by Juan Carlos Martínez (Colombian Ministry of National Education), Fredy Hinojosa (Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion of Peru) and Lissi Matute Cano (Secretariat for Development and Social Inclusion of Honduras). Also, Alessio Orgera (WFP) moderated the discussion. The presenters addressed the challenges of ensuring quick responses, adapting current legislation and adopting biosafety protocols, while also emphasizing the importance of local spheres and inter-institutional coordination to make SFP possible amid the pandemic. To see the recording of the webinar, click here and to see the presentation click here.
Colombia - school meals for home learning: permanence and well-being strategy in the school setting (Juan Carlos Martínez)
On March 17, the State of Emergency was declared in the Colombian national territory, implying the closure of schools in the entire country. The immediate challenge for the Ministry of National Education was to ensure the necessary legislative changes to allow SFP to continue delivering food to beneficiaries. It was required to enable contractual modifications between the territorial entities that execute the programme and its food suppliers; and modify the delivery guidelines, adapting them to the context of social isolation. Thus, Decree 470 (March 17), Decree 533 (April 9) and also the Resolution 006 (March 25) and Resolution 007 (April 16) temporarily modified the guidelines of the programme and provided legal bases to adaptations.
Considering the differences of local realities in the country and counting on a decentralized management model, the normative at the federal level allowed the territorial entities to choose the most appropriate form to adapt the SFP at home, offering three modalities as options:
The SPF's decentralized management also allowed territorial entities to define menus suited to local eating habits, and to design their delivery logistics and protocols that favour social distancing. At the federal level, the Ministry of Education coordinated actions with the Ministry of Agriculture and instructed the territorial entities to make deliveries preferably only once a month. It also determined that a delivery schedule should be followed to avoid crowds; that distribution must be supervised; and food must be inventoried. Moreover, the Government made additional financial contributions to offer food for four more weeks in addition to those expected in the school calendar (vertical expansion of the programme).
The high levels of coverage of the adapted programme indicate the success of the strategies adopted. Until May, only one territorial entity had not yet managed to resolve contractual problems and guarantee deliveries. The first delivery (March-April) made by SPF at home benefited 5 million children. The second delivery (April-May) benefited almost 4.6 million and the third delivery that has been taking place from May until now has already benefited nearly 2.4 million children.
Honduras – Adaptation of the National School Feeding Programme to the emergence of COVID-19 (Lissi Matute Cano)
When schools were closed in Honduras on March 16, the food from the SFP was already stored in the educational centres. About 1.3 million students would benefit from "dry foods" (flour, beans, rice and milk) and another 300,000 would benefit from "fresh foods" (fruits, vegetables, fish, dairy products, eggs). It was urgent to distribute these foods so that they reach the beneficiary children.
To this end, the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion (SEDIS), the Secretariat of Education (SEDUC) and the WFP jointly carried out feasibility analyses for delivering school meals to parents. It led to notification of the educational authorities at the different levels, deciding for immediate delivery of the school meals in stock in the educational centres. The support of local organizational structures such as Parents and Families Associations and School Meals Committees was fundamental to overcome logistics barriers, organizing and delivering the food to parents in the educational centres. To guarantee the safety in the delivering process, SEDIS, SEDUC, WFP, and UNICEF developed a Protocol with preventive measures and hygiene and social distancing rules for the delivery procedure:
In the first delivery of the programme (first week of April), food equivalent to 55 days of classes was distributed to 1.3 million beneficiaries. The second delivery, which started on June 10, has already reached almost 382,000 students, with indigenous and Afro-Honduran vulnerable people as the focus. Additionally, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Honduras Solidaria campaign was launched, as a different social assistance programme offering basic food baskets to more than 800,000 vulnerable families.
Peru – National School Feeding Programme Qali Warma (Fredy Hernán Hinojosa Angulo)
On March 11, Peru ordered the cessation of school activities throughout the national territory. It led the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion to seek solutions to make the national SFP Qali Warma feasible for more than 4 million children who benefit from this universal programme, which covers all students in the public education system (elementary schools and kindergartens). The country then needed to adapt its regulatory framework, which was done with measures such as Ministerial Resolution 160-2020-MINEDU and Vice-ministerial Resolution 091-2020-MINEDU.
This legal basis enabled Qali Warma to operate during quarantine in its two lines of action, both guaranteeing regular service and complementary service:
- Regular School Meal Service: the food that would be directed to students for consumption in schools was delivered at the educational centres to the children's parents. The School Meals Committees (bodies responsible for operating the programme at the local level) provided both "products" (raw food for preparation at home) and "rations" (industrialized meals, ready for consumption). The rations are given to children in the largest cities in the country, where the programme's incidence is quite high, and therefore the delivery needs to be made more progressively to avoid crowds. As of June 20, food delivery in "rations" modality covered 61.7% of the beneficiaries (237,000 out of 384,000). The "products" modality in its first delivery reached 95% of the beneficiaries (2.8 million out of 2.9 million). In the second delivery, which is underway, 1.4 million beneficiaries were served, out of a total of 2.6 million (53.8%).
- Complementary Food Attention Service: in addition to public school students, the Qali Warma programme also serves populations in a situation of vulnerability, within the framework of humanitarian assistance. District municipalities, Ministries that have in their coverage scope vulnerable people, and the National Institute of Civil Defense can request that the benefits of Qali Warma be delivered to groups, populations and areas considered vulnerable. As of June 18, 202,011 individuals had already been assisted in this type of service by the programme.
Among the main challenges to adapt the programme to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the difficulty in guaranteeing biosafety measures in the food delivery process, without generating agglomerations, is a major one. The Ministry is working on the analysis of new methods that reduce the population's exposure to risks, such as the adoption of cards and cash benefits. Through municipalities, efforts are also being made to intensify the food delivery process, as they play a crucial role in enabling Qali Warma to reach the homes of students and vulnerable people effectively. The table below summarizes the four main challenges that the programme faces:
The webinar concluded with a fruitful Q&A session, accessible here.
This blog post is part of the Social protection responses to COVID-19 webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IG, GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ), and the Australia Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) collaboration with the socialprotection.org platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations.
Join our online community ''Social protection responses to COVID-10 [Task force]" to learn more about the initiative and future webinars.