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Local farmers in Africa to benefit from school meal programs

A new project that aims to help local farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and to provide healthy school meals for local children launches today. The project, run by the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College London, is supported in part by a $12 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project will help governments to run school meal programmes using locally-sourced food, providing regular orders and a reliable income for local farmers. While many countries in sub-Saharan Africa already have school meal programmes in place, these programmes are traditionally run by international aid agencies, mostly using imported food. The new initiative will work in conjunction with education, health and agricultural sectors, social workers and international development partners, such as the World Bank and the World Food Programme.

Smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of whom are women, can often find it difficult to earn enough money to feed their families. They typically have small patches of land where they are only able to grow small amounts or poor quality food because they cannot afford modern seeds and fertilisers, and they lack access to a regular and lucrative market to sell their goods.

"By putting school feeding programmes using locally-sourced food in place, we can ensure that the smallholder farmers who supply the food get a reliable income that helps them look after their families and improve their businesses. We want to give them the skills and know-how to shape their own futures and beat poverty," said Dr Lesley Drake, project lead, from the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College London.

Through the new project, the Partnership aims to ensure a reliable and fair market for local farmers' products. The project will work with African governments and local partners to identify and provide the information, expertise, and training that smallholder farmers will need in order to produce nutritious foods in the right quantity and quality for the school meal programmes.

The first countries expected to benefit from the project will be Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Kenya. In addition to helping governments run school meal programmes, the project will also be conducting a series of studies to analyse their cost and impact. Previous studies have suggested that government-led school meal programmes can improve rural economies and create jobs and profits in addition to providing healthy food and improving access to education for children. The researchers hope to build on these case studies to produce an accurate picture of the impact of school meal programmes on farmers and children.

According to the UN, more than 60 million children go to school hungry every day worldwide. Research has shown that providing free, nutritious school lunches can improve children's health, giving them an incentive to enrol in classes and improve their attendance at school. Studies have also shown that school meals can improve children's concentration and learning ability.

Dr Drake added: "Millions of school children are facing poverty and hunger every day. For many of them, a school meal is the only reliable, nutritious meal they get each day and it is often the reason they go to school. Getting an education is really important for these kids, as it helps them to get jobs and break out of the poverty cycle. We hope our new project will help governments make sure these children are fed and educated."

This grant is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Agricultural Development initiative, which is working with a wide range of partners to provide millions of small farmers in the developing world with tools and opportunities to boost their yields, increase their incomes, and build better lives for themselves and their families. The foundation is working to strengthen the entire agricultural value chain-from seeds and soil to farm management and market access-so that progress against hunger and poverty is sustainable over the long term.


Contact: Lucy Goodchild
Imperial College London

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