By:  Christina Gagliardi, Commodity Management and Logistics Advisor, PCI/IO

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Last month I had the opportunity to participate in the Global Child Nutrition Forum (GCNF) in Salvador, Brazil. The event, sponsored by the Global Child Nutrition Foundation and the World Food Program Center for Excellence, brought together government representatives including 23 Ministers, the World Food Program (WFP), and school feeding implementers from 41 different countries to learn about the Brazilian school feeding model, to promote sustainable and efficient school feeding programs, and to develop country implementation plans.

PCI currently implements USDA funded McGovern-Dole Food for Education programs in Bolivia, Guatemala, and Tanzania; and has previously implemented school feeding programs in Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Zambia.  It was a rare treat to be joined at the conference by two of my colleagues from the field: PCI’s Food for Education Program Manager from Guatemala (Bal Maria Gutierrez), and PCI’s Program Manager from Tanzania (John Mayeka).

The conference location was no doubt selected due to the commitment the Brazilian Government has toward national school feeding in Brazil, as well as its commitment to seeing the home grown school feeding model replicated in other countries in the world. School feeding activities have been implemented in Brazil for over 50 years, however a strong emphasis on universal school feeding began about ten years ago with the ‘Zero Hunger Initiative’ which included an emphasis on food security and on investing in school feeding to improve food security and education. The program has evolved to include Home Grown School Feeding (similar to the Farm to School program in the US) as a key component of the program.

In 2009, the Brazilian Government mandated school feeding by law including the administration of the Programa National de Alimentacion Escolar (PNAE).  The PNAE program includes a multi-dimensional approach that involves many different agencies as well as strong participation from civil society.    Within this model, local markets for products used for school feeding are developed by providing technical assistance and in-kind resources to farmers participating in cooperatives. The long term strategy is that local governments purchase locally produced products from the producers which are then distributed to schools at the district level.  The idea is that local markets are developed, farmers improve income, children go to school and have a meal every day, children are able to concentrate and learn more because their nutrition improves, etc.  Local government ownership is a key element of the program, as is community ownership. All school feeding activities are managed at community level, for example. Today, 70 million students attending 180,000 schools in Brazil benefit from this program, receiving one or two meals every day.

The Government of Brazil also currently provides technical assistance and support for school feeding activities to over 93 countries around the world. Given the large number of local government representatives at the GCNF event, a key focus of the conference was introducing the five pillars of sustainable school feeding, followed by country-level discussions about the pillars. Specifically, the five pillars were the following:

1)      Legal and policy frameworks for school feeding programs (i.e. school feeding laws);

2)      Financial capacity to implement school feeding activities;

3)      Institutional capacity and coordination to assure government ownership for longer term programs;

4)      Design and implementation through partnerships to improve nutrition and improve supply chains;

5)      Community roles in terms of exploring models for the development of national school feeding programs.

PCI participated in the round tables for Guatemala, Tanzania, Nicaragua and Bolivia. It was fascinating to see the discussions unfold and hear different government perspectives.

To ensure that the momentum generated at the GNCF continued, and to develop steps to ensure sustainable school feeding programs in each country continues forward, PCI staff undertook specific actions upon returning to their respective countries.  For example, PCI staff have already: planned field visits with local government ministry staff to showcase PCI programs; conducted meetings with local stakeholders sharing lessons and activities learned during the GNCF event; and planned follow-up meetings with government ministry and WFP staff who attended the forum.