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FAO warns of the impact of COVID-19 on school feeding in Latin America and the Caribbean

  |   SUN Country Network, SUN UN Network

Among the measures taken by the Governments of many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of the rapid expansion of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the closure of schools and, therefore, the suspension of school feeding programs.

These programs currently benefit 85 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean. For about 10 million, they constitute one of the most reliable daily sources of food.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the suspension of school feeding programs will pose a challenge to the food security and nutritional status of many children, especially those from the most vulnerable groups.

“Ensuring sufficient, diverse and nutritious food contributes to strengthening people’s immune system and increases their capacities to cope with diseases,” explained FAO’S Regional Representative, Julio Berdegué.

FAO called on governments to implement measures to support children whose families have greater difficulties in accessing food, and to provide the nutritional contributions that are usually guaranteed by school feeding programs.

FAO pointed out that, for any action taken by governments, all measures recommended by national and international health authorities should be taken into consideration to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Social protection systems, for example, can play a key role in guaranteeing the food security of the most vulnerable population in the coming weeks,” explained Berdegué.

Options to ensure child nutrition

Recommendations to minimize the impact of the closure of school feeding programs on food security and nutrition should be decided by each country, taking all precautions to avoid transmission of the virus.

Some possible measures are:

  • Food distribution to the most vulnerable families, establishing delivery times in schools, or through mobile units.
  • Increase in the economic allocation of social protection programs (such as income transfers) by an amount corresponding to the cost of food rations delivered by school feeding programs.
  • Delivery of emergency essential food rations to the most vulnerable communities and territories in coordination with authorized government agencies or international cooperation.
  • Exemption from taxes on basic food for families with school-age children, especially for workers in the most affected economic sectors.
  • Promotion of at home fresh food delivery, if possible from local agriculture
  • Redistribution of food from school feeding programs through donations to entities responsible for providing food assistance (such as food banks, social organizations, non-governmental organizations, churches) during the emergency response phase, under the strict monitoring of security protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Use of digital tool (georeferenced applications) to improve communication regarding access points for food deliveries, distribution times, and recommendations for the proper use of food, and measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

The establishment of food and nutrition roundtables, in which sectors in charge of school food programs should participate, may allow the identification of other groups at high risk of food insecurity, such as older adults who live alone or are isolated due to the current situation, to take timely actions to safeguard their nutrition.

All these measures need extensive inter-institutional coordination, under the leadership of the designated authorities in each country, to face this crisis.

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