In a community school in Sierra Leone, in West Africa, children who used to faint from hunger now have daily nutritious lunches. What's more: they are growing the food themselves.

 

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has recently urged governments in West Africa to turn their attention to school meal programmes. This is because these programmes are linked not only to food security, but also to the creation of sustainable agricultural jobs in the long term. These small-scale food investments are “central for hunger and poverty eradication” according to the UN.

 

Research suggests that there is a critical link between childhood nutrition and economic development because of problems such as “stunting”, which refers to the stunted physical growth and impaired cognitive development in children affected by undernourishment in the first 1000 days of their lives. Stunting can have a detrimental impact on children’s access to education, as well as their employment prospects and career mobility later in life. Whether a child wants to pursue a manual labour vocation or higher education, their likelihood of succeeding could be diminished if their bodies and minds are not properly nourished during childhood.

 

Graph: Despite progress elsewhere, the number of children suffering from stunting has risen in Africa since the turn of the century.

Experts say that “stunting” occurs not just because of low calorie intake, but also because of a lack of vital nutrients such as iron and iodine. Moreover, a lack of iron from green vegetables, fibre-rich cereals and animal-based produce is linked to anemia. In adults, anaemia can have symptoms such as fatigue and weakness, but in children it is much more severe: it will cause impaired cell growth, which can lead to weakened physical and mental development, damage to the immune system and ultimately an increased susceptibility to infection. It’s important to emphasise the importance of this small window in a child’s life. Access to good nutrition during this time can mean the difference between a child reaching their potential or not even reaching school.

 

The economic impact of malnutrition is huge too. In 2014, a ground-breaking study called the Cost of Hunger in Africa, has revealed that the effects of hunger and undernutrition in Rwanda cost the country US$820 million (£584 million) annually -- the equivalent of 11.5 percent of its annual GDP.

 Child with bread

Photo: Boy at Murakaza School, Burundi, with a piece of bread. With many of the children at Murakaza malnourished, we're looking to expand the project to include a daily meal for every child at the school. See Food Bank Appeal.

There are vital government and non-governmental programmes, which are designed to provide emergency food to children who are not meeting their nutritional needs, particularly in famine or conflict zones. These programmes often provide communities with high energy sachets of food, designed especially for children. Although this method is highly effective in emergency situations, it does not solve the problem in the long term.

By promoting community-led farming programmes, communities can improve food security. When people can rely on a source of food that they have themselves grown, their energy can be invested back into education, housing and livelihoods. It is also better for the planet and more ethical because it uses sustainable irrigation, less GMOs and chemicals. And better still, the profit from these farms is circled back to the producers, either through direct consumption of the food or through sales, rather than being reaped by multinational corporations.

The UN estimates that, every year, almost 5 million children in developing countries die of malnutrition-related causes.

In a country like Sierra Leone, malnutrition is the cause of 46% of children’s deaths. Supported by BWAUK, the Kids Kitchen Garden at the We Are the Future school supports 230 schoolchildren by providing them with healthy, nutritious meals every day.  This not only prevents malnutrition but teaches the children basic agricultural skills; skills they then share at home with their parents.  

 Children at the WAF school enjoying their lunch

Photo: Kids at We Are the Future School enjoying lunch.

BWAUK is looking to replicate the success of this project by expanding it to other schools in the local area. A project like this is vital; it not only feeds hungry children now, but ensures that future generations have the basic tools they require to prosper.


Saskia Edwards is a Volunteer at Bread and Water for Africa UK.

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