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Family Farmers the Key to Better Food in Schools

Colombian children enjoy a government-funded school lunch. (Ashley Hill)

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization in eight South American countries—Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru—released a study examining school-feeding programs. The study was supported by the Brazil-FAO International Cooperation Programme which has had historically helped countries move closer towards reaching Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Increases in Governmental Commitment

The study found that governments that participated in the study are recognizing the important role of school-feeding programs in achieving food and nutritional security. Between 2011 and 2012, the combined budget of all of these countries was roughly US$940 million. This is demonstrative of their recognition of a child’s right to food, education, and health. Governments are contributing more to funds for school-feeding programs, making these programs less reliant on outside aid agencies. This money is primarily allocated toward the acquisition, storage, and distribution of food. The study found, however, that not enough money was being allocated towards infrastructure, building capacity in institutions, and improving evaluation mechanisms.  For example, many schools lack the space and technology to store food, as well as spaces to prepare food in a hygienic manner. Funding for school-feeding programs for children was also lacking.

Support from Non-Governmental Institutions

Furthermore, governments expressed interest in working with outside institutions—such as NGOs—and donors in order to supplement their programs. With the exception of Paraguay and Peru, the countries lack any specific laws regarding school-feeding programs. Other countries do not have laws for school-feeding programs, but they do have rules and regulations concerning the organizations that do manage them. While cooperation with outside institutions is still in preliminary stages, programs have sought the support in helping to maintain school-feeding programs. The more successful school-feeding programs have higher levels of parental involvement, with parents contributing to both the monitoring and the sustainability of the programs.

The Incorporation of Small Family Farmers

In addition to a general lack of structure in regards to school-feeding programs, all of these countries lack a registration system that adequately accounts for family farmers who are responsible for most of the production of maize and beans. While countries have been emphasizing the role of family farmers to a greater degree, the lack of a census has made it difficult for governments to establish public policy around them. The study, however, finds that there is great potential for decentralized school-feeding programs to source food from local family farmers if they are given more support to strengthen institutional capacities.

Overall, both FAO and the government of Brazil recognize that positive strides have been made towards improving school-feeding programs, but have stressed the need for governments to act more strongly on their commitments by creating more concrete programs.

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