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School Meal Programs Around the World

  • Published on April 12, 2022

In late 2016, the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) set out to fill a void. While school meal programs large and small have been implemented for decades in most countries, these were not documented in a consistent and comprehensive manner. There was no global database, no global repository of countrywide program information, and no systematic global description of what was happening with these programs. GCNF undertook the task of designing a global survey that would use a common vocabulary and a non-evaluative approach in order to produce a comprehensive description of all the core aspects of large-scale school meal programs around the world. The idea was for the survey to be repeated every two to three years in order to encourage improvements in countries’ data systems, to allow analyses of gaps and trends, and to help policy makers and program implementers to identify and advocate for needed improvements. The first round of survey data gathering, data cleaning, and analysis for the “McGovern- Dole countries” was completed in June 2020. The report—a key deliverable under the USDA agreement—was completed and submitted to USDA in mid-September, 2020.

In 2019, the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) conducted a Global Survey of School Meal Programs © in order to build a school meal1 program database that gathers standardized information across all countries and sectors and covers a comprehensive set of school-based feeding activities. Responses were received from 103 countries, of which 85 had a large-scale school feeding program operating in their country and submitted a survey, and 18 stated that they had no large-scale program. The 85 participating countries and the 160 school meal programs operating within them are the focus of this report. While the countries from which responses were received represent 53% of the countries in the world, they contain 78% of the world’s 2017 population.

This report concludes with a set of broad recommendations for policy makers. Where programs are managed by implementing partners and government capacity is not being engaged, GCNF recommends that such engagement be strongly encouraged to foster program sustainability. Observing that school meal programs tend to include a more diverse diet when food is procured through domestic purchase, GCNF recommends that more attention be given to the domestic purchase of food items. As school meal programs are more resilient when they create work, training, and other economic and status-enhancing opportunities in their communities, GCNF recommends that programs place emphasis on such activities—especially for women, youth, and marginalized groups. In addition, it is imperative to gather evidence regarding the extent to which programs are meeting their stated objectives, particularly with respect to those that have been introduced fairly recently, such as support for agriculture or obesity mitigation. Finally, acknowledging that survey respondents sometimes found it challenging to complete the survey, often because the data do not exist or were not accessible, GCNF recommends that development partners focus on capacity strengthening around data collection, monitoring, and evaluation of school meal programs, using consistent terminology and methods.

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