March 1 2016 marked the first edition of the Africa Day for School Feeding, to be observed jointly by the African Union Commission, AU Member States and development partners. The Day, which is centered on the theme “Home Grown School Feeding: a Conduit for Africa’s Sustainable Development” was celebrated with continent-wide activities and highlighted by series of official events in the Nigerien capital, Niamey.
Africa Day for School Feeding was instituted by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government during the 26th AU Summit, in recognition of the immense value of home grown school feeding to enhancing retention and performance of children in school, and in boosting income generation and entrepreneurship in local communities.
A number of African countries are already implementing school feeding programmes, but due to inadequate financing and heavy dependence of the programmes on foreign donors, poor logistical arrangements and provision of dry food lacking in dietary diversity, the programmes often fall short of meeting the required impact. This is one reason why the emphasis has shifted to Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF), due to its integrated, multi-sector approach.
Africa Day for School Feeding is the culmination of several initiatives and efforts aimed at assuring quality universal school enrollment in Africa, and putting school feeding at the centre of solutions to help African children from the poorest households, and who live in difficult areas, to have access to quality education in a safe and conducive environment. The Cost of Hunger in Africa Study (COHA) was conceived close to a decade of the launch of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which aims to among other things, transform agriculture and catalyze it to achieve sustainable annual economic growth, food and nutrition security and humanitarian goals. Commissioned through a partnership of the Africa Union Commission, the NEPAD Agency, the United Nations World Food Programme and United Nation’s Economic Commission for Africa, the COHA study specifically demonstrates that child nutrition can be a determining factor in achieving Africa's transformation agenda and illustrates the additional barriers limiting undernourished children to gain full health, school performance and compete in labour markets.
The AU Commission’s drive to ingrain home grown school feeding on the continent was also inspired by the highly successful Brazilian Home Grown School Feeding programme, which has been instrumental in promoting universal access to basic education and preventive health services, while creating new income generating activities for extremely poor families. One of the launch pads for attaining the Agenda 2063, school feeding is an opportunity to prevent the high rate of school drop-outs, an idea well espoused in the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA).
The Africa Day for School Feeding was again envisaged by the African Union Commission and its development partners to enhance advocacy for school feeding; mobilize, engage and involve States, as well as technical and financial partners in school feeding development initiatives. It is expected to stimulate information and experience sharing among stakeholders; support and promote local economy, whilst encouraging and inviting partners and political organizations to promote the initiative.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is working with 65 nations worldwide on implementing school feeding programmes which are an effective safety net, helping to ensure that over 18 million children have access to education and food. In Africa alone, WFP works with some 39 nations. In the fight against hunger, school meals are a sound investment in the future of the next generation.
The Republic of Niger offered to host the first edition of the celebrations considering its strong advocacy for home grown school feeding, with emphasis on the impacts such a programme could have within the framework of Education by 2030, notably the improvement of access to and completion of primary education in relation to the fight against early marriages and street children. The official celebrations in Niamey attracted the participation of top level officials of AU Member States, Nigerien government officials, the AUC, school children and development partners such as the WFP, UNICEF, FAO, etc. It also included thematic discussions, brainstorming, as well as idea and experience sharing involving a wide range of stakeholders.