In countries with historically high rates of malnutrition, new technologies and partnerships are improving access to nutritious foods, empowering community members and helping children become higher achievers. Through support from the World Food Project, World Bank and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, countries such as Ghana are stepping up efforts to improve in-school feeding ventures that use produce from local farmers. One program, known as Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF), feeds an estimated 386 million children each day. Through providing children with free meals during school, this venture improves their chances of staying and succeeding in school. This supports local farmers as well in that it creates a reliable, constant market to which growers can sell their produce. The effects of such an initiative reach further along the food supply chain, securing jobs and welfare for local caterers who have begun signing contracts with governments and growers alike.

One of the 20 African countries implementing the HGSF program, Ghana provides meals to 1.7 million children each day, but continues to face malnutrition issues. To address this, the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College London and the Dubai Cares Foundation has begun collaboration with the Ghanian government to implement an approach that educates communities on good nutrition. The Partnership has released a simple tool, the School Meals Planner, that allows users to create and price meals that are made from local produce. This Planner uses simple graphics to show how nutritious a meal is based on health standards set in place by the World Health Organzation. Further, the planner uses “handy measurements”- tools such as buckets and spoons- that allow families to cook using household appliances rather than expensive equipment. The simplicity of this initiative and its availability both on- and off-line makes it accessible to school budget planners, caterers and families.

The Partnership has also started training community members in health and nutrition to extend the reach of HGSF to entire households. Through community meetings, posters and radio advertisements, more and more people are becoming educated on how to eat right and give their families the nutrients they need. Mercy Awonor, a mother of two from Accra, the capital of Ghana, says the initiative has helped her distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods when cooking for her family. “My children also know what is good for them,” she says. “If I return from the market without fruit for them they will complain or cry until I get some for them. I tell them they are spoilt but really I’m pleased because I know they will grow strong and healthy.” Through programs like Home Grown School Feeding in collaboration with School Meals Planner, Ghana has implemented low-cost plans that optimize community benefit and engagement through educating people on healthy eating, employing crop growers and caterers and ensuring children are receiving the nutrition they need to prosper in their schools and homes.

– Jenna Wheeler

Sources: HGSF 1, Schools and Health, Impatient Optimists, HGSF 2
Photo: Schools and Health