Daily school meals for children across Africa vital to Africa’s future, Rockefeller Foundation side event at African Development Bank annual meeting told

African countries could scale up the provision of free school meals despite other economic challenges to combat the unpredictable and damaging consequences of millions of children going to school every day across Africa with hungry stomachs, participants in a key side event at the African Development Bank’s annual meetings in Nairobi heard Monday.

The official theme of the side event was “Creating Fiscal Space for School Meals: Towards Agenda 2063, SDGs and Human Capital Development”.

The event, organized by the Rockefeller Foundation in partnership with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the World Food Programme, focused on how countries could scale up the provision of free school meals to help meet the sustainable development goals and aspirations of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – called “The Africa We Want.”

“Freedom from hunger is a human right… children who get a good meal will go back to school again and again, there is a link between hunger and the development of gray matter,” Dr Martin Fregene, Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry at the African Development Bank told the high-level gathering of policymakers and decision-makers.

Fregene, who addressed the gathering on behalf of the Chairman of the African Development Bank Group, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, stressed that food production created demand for farmers and secured markets for products that help economic growth.

Across Africa, the stated goal of universal primary education, SDG 2, an initiative strongly supported by the Bank Group, has made great strides, but Fregene stressed that to be realised, it must be accompanied by planet-friendly, home-cooked school meal programmes.

He and other speakers pointed out that free meals helped children’s cognitive capacities, led to higher attendance levels, improved health and nutrition levels and overall well-being.

“No child today should go to school hungry,” declared former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, current chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). “New and innovative ways of financing school meals must be found.”

In light of the current economic circumstances, he called on Africa to turbocharge the continent’s drive to meet the SDGs with out-of-the-box thinking and not fall further behind, as school children were the custodians of Africa’s future and critical in achieving “the Africa we want “.

Kikwete praised the recent debt swap for education deals with partners, highlighted a recent agreement between France and Ivory Coast and noted the multiplier effect every dollar spent on education, including the free meals initiative, had on overall GDP performance.

Noting that many African governments were grappling with the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising food inflation and losses and damages associated with climate change-induced natural disasters, among other issues, Fregene said the bank has supported healthy meal initiatives until on about 100 million dollars.

Many African countries are also struggling with limited fiscal space exacerbated by rising debt servicing costs, creating a silent debt crisis. High debt payments are squeezing spending on critical interventions that can accelerate Agenda 2063 and SDG implementation, speakers said.

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