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Food Security Initiative: Why do school closures have impact on food security?

20-05-2020

Each week Maastricht School of Management (MSM) is collecting information through their educational partners located in Africa, Asia and South America on issues caused by COVID-19 affecting sustainable local development. This week the focus will be on the effects of school closures on food-security through school feeding schemes.

Covid-19 and Food Security – School Feeding and School closures
As part of the ongoing scanning of impact of Covid-19 on food security a common action recorded in our database is school closures. Out of 40 institutes surveyed, school closures have been recorded in every country.

Why do school closures have impact on food security?

School feeding programs are a common intervention by governments in many countries and enjoy strong support from development partners. There is now a consensus for universal adoption of school feeding programs as it helps increase children’s access to learning opportunities and improve their health and nutrition status (WFP 2013). The direct benefit of school feeding programs has improved nutrition and also crucially increasing education outcomes of school children. Bundy et. al. (2009) point that in short term, these programs also provide a safety net during crises and in the long term they act as investments in human capital, local economies, hunger reduction and equity. School feeding programs can be considered a transversal policy in confronting poverty and other social problems, because at the same time that it favors the human development of students, it improves diet habits, guarantees access to healthy and adequate food and promotes the development of the local economy, due to the purchasing of food produced in the school environment (FAO, 2014).

A secondary and still crucial benefit of school feeding programs is that they provide markets for local farmers. This has two important impacts: (i) increased incomes of farmers can mean improved livelihoods and increased aggregate demand in the local region thus further stimulating the local economy; (ii) and since these are structured markets which lower market risk of farmers, farmers can invest and upgrade production schemes. This can lead to farmers developing the capacity to serve other structured markets e.g. supermarkets and processors, and drive transformation of agriculture.

Concluding, a well-structured school feeding program can be an important driver for local economic development. As summarized by FAO (2014), it has been distinguished as a multi-sectoral policy as it allows countries to achieve objectives in different strategic areas such as education, health, agriculture, social development, environment, territorial development and others. WFP, the World Bank, Partnership for Child Development Food, and FAO  are all working together to help countries to establish and maintain nationally owned programs linked to local agricultural production.

What does our survey say?

School meals continuing at home
In general school meals have stopped with school closures. For example, in Ghana, vulnerable populations are affected by the closure of schools as they are dependent on free government school feeding programs that are no longer available. To avoid undernourishment several governments have sought to ensure that school food schemes continue by delivering to people’s houses. In South Africa some schools still provide food schemes to children and adults at their homes. In Colombia, South America, students will continue receiving their normal food aid at their homes. Some argue that since this food will now be shared among the whole family, the measures will leave the children malnourished after all.

Farmers lose crucial income when school feeding supply schemes stop or when government steps in
Farmers that prior to Covid-19 supplied schools have generally lost income with the school closures. Even where governments are endeavoring to continue supplying meals at home these farmers are impacted. As farmers that would normally supply the schools are often not able to sell the usual volumes to schools, affecting their incomes and livelihoods but also affecting the food-packages. However, there has been some benefits since due to movement restrictions, it’s difficult for farm workers to travel to their destinations. In some countries school closures have alleviated this challenge. In Ethiopia, small farmers are trying to cope with the help of family members that cannot go to school. In general, with schools closed and students staying home with their families, they now fill the labor gap (Jimma University, 2020). To support the agricultural sector to get through the Covid-19 induced crisis (which include impact of school closures and other impacts), the government in South Africa for example has launched financial help packages to assist farmers and others. In some cases though, the usual bureaucratic challenge may blunt the impact of the support, for example in Ghana, where small-scale farmers complain they cannot rely on these stimulus packages since no clear guidelines and transparency in accessing the fund are in place.  

Way forward

The school feeding programs are important social support tools and are important stimulus packages for local farmers. It is important to re-think carefully how to continue with them in light of the current crisis. This will require innovation in delivery of the support. As shown some countries are leading the way by continuing support through deliveries at home. However, this clearly adds significant logistical challenges and may even make the programs unaffordable. One way that impact can be maintained is to distribute vouchers (or even cash) so that parents can buy the food. In this way the government does not need to get bogged in logistics and does not take local farmers that supplied schools before out of the business. A higher level of innovation is putting all suppliers and all students in a common platform. Suppliers and students just buy their meals from platforms in the same way people order from online food markets. With this comes the challenge that parents or students should have the devices to do so, yet with most having mobile or smart phones accessing the platform will not be too difficult. This will require some investments but given that Covid-19 has also impacted on learning (the key target of school feeding programs), supporting these platforms including distributing these tools should be a priority. Meanwhile, these platforms can also become a means to access to learning through online platforms. Once again school feeding can be tied to learning outcomes as a voucher can be tied to completing an online lesson. This could be the way forward, and governments should in collaboration with the development partners, private companies and education & research start with mobilizing resources for this.

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A special thank you to our project partners ESAP, ARN, Holland House, and PBA in Colombia, Latia in Kenya, Al Shoubak University College, Jordan Valley College and Al Huson University College in Jordan and Elsenburg Agricultural College, Vhembe TVET College, Boland TVET College, NCRTVET College and Nkangala TVET College in South Africa, Wolaita Soddo Agricultural TVET, Alage ATVET College, Arba Minch University, Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resource, Bishoftu Polytechnic college, Amhara TVET Bureau, Bako ATVET College, Addis Ababa City, Federal TVET Institute, Oromia TVET Bureau, Jimma University, Merawi TVET, Woreta TVET College and Kombolcha TVET College in Ethiopia, Kwadaso Agri College, Asuansi Farm Institute, Wenchi Farm Institute, Adidome Farm Institute in Ghana and College of Vocational Studies in Indonesia for providing us with their view and experience on the current situation.

References
Bundy, D., Burbano, C., Grosh, M., Gelli, A., Jukes, M. & Drake, L. 2009. Rethinking School Feeding: Social Safety Nets, Child Development and the Education Sector. Washington, DC, World Bank and Rome, WFP.

FAO (2014). Scaling-up school feeding: Harnessing what worked for Brazil. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Rome http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4288e.pdf

Jimma University. (2020). Covid-19 probable impacts on Ethiopian agriculture and potential mitigation and adaptation measures: no food-no health-no life. Retrieved from https://www.ju.edu.et/?q=probable-impacts-covid-19-ethiopian-agriculture

WFP (2013). School Feeding Policy: Promoting innovation to achieve national ownership. November 2013 https://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/communications/wfp263529.pdf

Related Food Security Initiative Updates
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Food Security Initiative: The current state of affairs in the world

Covid-19 in Kenya: the exacerbation of old challenges and emergence of new challenges

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