Learning how to reduce poverty and enhance food security by protecting children in Zambia
Child nutrition interventions are essential in Zambia, a country that counts over a million children deaths a year due to undernutrition (many of the children are under the age of 5) (Munthali et al., 2015; Eberwein et al., 2016). School feeding programmes have been implemented all over the world and are an effective measure to protect children. More than ensuring at least one daily meal for thousands of children, these programmes increase school attendance, improve children’s nutrition, and can even have beneficial effects for the local economy. Furthermore, creating a world where economic and social opportunities reach every Zambian child is possible through education since schools are the foundation of economic growth and social inclusion. This blog will explore how school-feeding programmes could reduce poverty and enhance food security for displaced children in Zambia by addressing the challenges and opportunities of such programmes.
School-feeding programmes can either focus solely on providing in-school feeding or in providing take-home rations so that families can receive food if their children attend school (World Food Programme, 2013). There is also the possibility to combine in-school meals with take-home rations for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable students, especially in humanitarian settings, to reduce gender and social gaps, increase school enrollments, and enhance retention rate. Investing in school-feeding programmes could, therefore, help all Zambian families - especially children -, to increase their resilience to shape a positive future. When daily meals are interconnected with local agricultural production, it can also help local entrepreneurs to have higher incomes and bolster rural economies to achieve economic growth and social inclusion (World Food Programme, 2013).
Home-grown school feeding programme to achieve social peace
The World Food Program (WFP), in partnership with the Ministry of Education in Zambia, has developed the Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF) since 2013, a critical school-feeding programme that can reach 2 million primary-school children by ensuring at least one meal every school day to protect over 50% of schoolchildren, especially refugees, from disadvantaged and vulnerable households (Nikoi, Cammelbeeck, 2020). The HGSF programme provides schoolchildren with cooked meals that are eaten during school hours and produced by local entrepreneurs. The HGSF programme primary objective is to connect school meals with local agricultural production to create a sustainable ecosystem that protects the health of all schoolchildren from disadvantaged households and increases income for local entrepreneurs to achieve economic growth and social inclusion.
A sustainable ecosystem enables to shrink children chronic undernutrition, especially by assisting displaced refugees, and preserve the livelihood of local entrepreneurs to reduce poverty and inequality and enhance food security to build communities that are resilient and inclusive in every way. This HGSF programme can protect the human rights of 40% of children under 5 years old who are stunted, and also lift out of poverty and injustice 63% of people, especially refugee children (Bitonde, Katete, 2020). When the human rights of children are protected, schoolchildren can stay healthy and keep learning in school.
The Zambian Ministry of Education has employed the HGSF program to enable all children in primary schools to be fed with daily meals by locally grown foods. The Zambian Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the WFP, has developed training workshops in food safety and health protection to support all schoolchildren. The training built the capacity of professionals at the national, provincial, and district levels on meal planning, nutrition, food storage and management, and multi-sector collaborations (Bitonde, 2017). In 2017, local training and multi-sector collaborations had enabled the Zambian Government to deliver meals for 2 million children in 50 primary schools and fostered partnerships with 620 local entrepreneurs (80% of women). Albeit more than 90% of children were reached with food in 2017, only 33% of children received a complete food basket due to climate shocks related to extreme droughts (Bitonde, 2018). In that sense, the HGSF programme also started a MacroNutrient pilot project (delivering food with high concentrations of Vitamin A and iron) that helped to reduce chronic undernutrition and saved the lives of 6,973 school children in 2018 (Bitonde, 2018). The HGSF programme is today a vital component of the Zambian social protection policy.
During last year’s harvesting season, the southern half of Zambia suffered from a severe drought, which resulted in multiple crop losses. Emergency social protection interventions were put in place, including the development of a home-grown school meals (HGSM) programme that enabled the local government to buy products from 31 districts and deliver meals to 13 affected districts (Bitonde, Katete, 2020). Emergency social protection interventions are vital to ensuring that all schoolchildren are healthy in every district, so the Zambian Ministry of Education and the WFP have designed the HGSM programme to secure enhanced access of nutritious food to achieve nutrition-sensitive (Sakwiya et al., 2018), enhancing agricultural diversification, and inclusive development objectives. Securing access to nutrition enables the Ministry of Education in Zambia to identify food production gaps and promote diversification of agricultural production by strengthening the local food system. The WFP has helped the Zambian government to build a nutrition policy that increases the diverse production of nutritious food to reduce stunting by 40% in 2021 (Nikoi, Cammelbeeck, 2020), especially by protecting primary school children from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged districts to achieve economic growth and social inclusion.
The Ministry of Education in Zambia, in collaboration with the WFP and the Zambian Government’s Data Centre, reformed this new Home-Grown School Meals (HGSM) programme to enhance access to nutritious food for 225,000 school children in 60 primary schools (Bitonde, Katete, 2020). This critical collaboration provided 1,000 farmers (Bitonde, Katete, 2020) ready market opportunities to feed all disadvantaged children in schools with vegetables such as beans and cowpeas. Inadequate food dietary is one of the primary causes of stunning in Zambia, so it has been included in the HGSM programme the development of hydroponics vegetable gardens to promote the production of more vegetables for all schools and communities. In September 2019, many communities affected by climate shocks had been protected by the new HGSM programme (Bitonde, Katete, 2020). Many disadvantaged and vulnerable communities have enhanced their nutrition, whereas entrepreneurs, especially women, have enabled the whole country to be resilient by promoting agriculture technology, crop diversification, post-harvest management, and access to finance and climate services to achieve social peace. The HGSM programme has enabled government institutions in Zambia to design social protection interventions that contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1, no poverty, and 2, zero hunger. The HGSM programme also has enabled to achieve economic growth and social inclusion that reduces poverty, enhanced food security, and creates shared prosperity with social peace.
In conclusion, connecting the HGSF program with local food production has benefited both school children and the rural economy since we can shrink poverty by protecting the rights of all children and create jobs for local community members and entrepreneurs to increase their income by growing fresh and nutritious food. The HGSF programme aims to alleviate poverty and enhance food security by providing daily meals in the most vulnerable and disadvantaged districts, 22 districts, in Zambia (daily in-school meals and take-home rations), and local training (Bitonde, 2018; Nikoi, Cammelbeeck, 2020). When we address the root causes of poverty by developing social protection programmes on poverty reduction and food security, we can build a foundation of prosperity for all by protecting all children, especially refugees, in Zambia to achieve social peace. Achieving social peace means that every child is out of poverty by having access to food and education so that these children can be and feel part of an inclusive society.
Bitonde, J. (2018). Standard Project Report. World Food Programme. Rome.
Bitonde, J., Katete C. (2020). Zambia Country Brief. World Food Programme. Rome.
Bitonde, J., Katete C. (2020). Saving lives, changing lives. World Food Programme. Rome.
Eberwein, J. D., Kakietek, J., Shekar, M., Subandoro, A., Pereira, A., Hyder, Z., Akuoku, J. K. (2016). An Investment Framework for Nutrition in Zambia. World Bank.
Munthali T., Jacobs C., Sitali L., Dambe R., Michelo C. (2015). Mortality and morbidity patterns in under-five children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in Zambia: a five-year retrospective review of hospital-based records (2009–2013). Archives of Public Health, 73(1).
Nikoi, C., Cammelbeeck S. (2020). Country Programmes Zambia. World Food Programme. Rome.
Sakwiya, J., Longley, C., Gandure, S., Ngombe, A. C., Horst, N. (2018). Decentralized evaluation. Evaluation of the Zambia Country Programme. World Food Programme. Zambia.
World Food Programme. (2013). State of School Feeding Worldwide. Rome.
World Food Programme. (2020). School feeding programme in the COVID-19 crisis. Retrieved from https://www.wfp.org/school-meals