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School feeding sourced to small farmers breaks new ground in Africa

Photo: ©FAO/Jeanette Van Acker / FAO

Linking school feeding programs to local, small-scale farms offers multiple benefits.

9 October 2012, Rome - An innovative partnership in five African countries is breaking new ground in the fight against hunger and malnutrition by sourcing food for school meals to production by small-scale farmers.

During its initial phase last year, the Purchase from Africans for Africa Programme (PAA) involved over 5,000 family farmers in feeding programmes in 424 schools in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal, with some 120,000 students benefitting.

Food for scholastic feeding programmes is purchased from small farmers in the same areas where schools are located. The core idea is to adapt Brazil's experience in linking public expenditures on food to production from family farming.

The PAA programme is now wrapping up its pilot phase and is looking to build on that experience to scale up and consolidate its activities in the five participating countries. The initiative is jointly managed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in close cooperation with Brazil's Ministry for Agrarian Development and National Council for Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Initial results promising

The innovative approach offers the possibility of multiple wins in the areas of nutrition, child development and education, rural development and poverty reduction, participants at a roundtable during the ongoing meeting of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) have heard.

According to Brave R. Ndisale, Malawi's ambassador to FAO, outcomes in her country have so far been highly promising.

Southern Malawi, where the programme is being piloted, is a food-insecure region with high but unexploited agricultural productive capacity. The PAA has created supply chains and predictable market conditions where none existed before, she said.

Incomes of local farmers - 50 percent of whom are women - have improved, putting local economies on a more solid footing. And school feeding has led to better student retention, while improved nutrition means that students are much more able to engage in school and learn, Ndisale added.

In all five countries participating in the PAA, FAO is providing technical support to governments, farmers and farmers' associations to help them improve and diversify sustainable food production, while WFP is drawing on the experience of its Purchase for Progress Programme to help schools, governments and other partners with procurement and distribution mechanisms.

The UN food agencies are also working together with partner governments to develop strategic plans for sourcing purchases for food relief from local production.

Adapting to local situations

Brazil's involvement in the PAA programme involves not only financial support, but engaging with FAO, WFP and partners in Africa to share its experience and jointly design adapted programmes linking public spending on food with small-scale farming production.

Pepe Vargas, Brazil's Minister for Agrarian Development, and Maria Emilia Pacheco, President of National Council for Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA), underscored the importance of tailoring programmes to local conditions and needs.

In each of the five countries where PAA is active, programme activities were designed in close participation with governments, local authorities and school administrations, farmers groups, civil society and other stakeholders. Procurement models were adapted to local conditions, and at every step of the supply chain, building the capacity of those involved to sustain the activity has been a priority.

Learning and commitment

For the second phase, additional funding comes from Brazil and DFID, which is also supporting monitoring, evaluation and lessons-learned activities.

The UK's Ambassador to FAO, David Briscoe, stressed DFID's commitment to its continued involvement in the PAA programme, which over the next 18 months will seek to consolidate successes from the pilot period and scale-up activities in the five participating countries.

Antonino Marques Porto e Santos, Brazil's Ambassador to FAO, also expressed his government's commitment to the PAA initiatve - "to the work itself, and the results it is yielding, but also to the kind of South-South and interagency and multi-stakeholder partnership it entails."