School meals can support education, foster equality

19 May 2022
SG and the children at Food For Education

Last month, Kenya hosted the 21st Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers for the first time since 1987. The meeting was an opportunity for our family of nations to discuss some of the most pressing challenges, including the severe impacts of Covid-19.

Since its inception in 1965, the Commonwealth Secretariat has a proud history of working to improve the well-being of all Commonwealth citizens and to advance their shared interests globally. This has never been more important than it is today.

Covid-19 has disrupted global trade and placed unprecedented pressure on public finances around the world, pushing some countries into serious debt and putting development gains at risk. This is compounded by spikes in global food and fuel prices, and climate change.

This confluence of crises is a problem for everyone, but a potential disaster for developing countries. We need urgent action now to assist countries across Africa to deliver tangible improvements in people's livelihoods, prosperity and security, and to accelerate progress towards the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

To actually deliver the SDGs, we need sustained action that leaves no one behind. Education is central to this journey, but our approach must go hand-in-hand with that of nutrition and food security. Hungry children cannot be expected to learn. 

Importance of school feeding

School feeding programmes, such as Food for Education’s Ruiru Kitchen, are essential in this effort. There is consistent proof that school feeding improves enrollment and attendance, resulting in better academic performance and nutrition status.

A recent report by the Centre for Global Development observed that only about one in seven children in low-income countries receive meals at school, compared to one in three in lower-middle-income countries. We are committed to assisting governments to appreciate the importance of school feeding in supporting education, stimulating economic growth and fostering greater equality.

India’s midday meals scheme feeds approximately 100 million children every day, and research shows benefits not just in the current health of girls who received meals, but also in their future health and the nutrition of their own children. 

Every child should have access to at least one substantial meal a day. Unfortunately, while some Commonwealth countries are leading the way on school feeding, others are lagging behind. The key question is: how can we scale up school feeding across all member states? With the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in less than two months, we have a golden opportunity to place school feeding programmes at the heart of rethinking education.

This Op-ed by Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, QC, and Ms Wawira Njiru, executive director of Food for Education, was first published by The Daily Nation.