The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just announced a series of grants for school feeding in ten different countries. It's part of an effort inspired by former Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole.
The idea is simple: to provide every child in the world with school meals. This would help end child hunger and fight off disease. It gives children a chance for education. Imagine if whole generations could get those things?
The reality is a bit different though. According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), "66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone."
So that is why there is such a need for the USDA's McGovern-Dole International School Meals Program.
As Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said yesterday, "The McGovern-Dole program doesn't just feed hungry children, it invests in their future potential. Supporting healthy families and improving access to education helps to combat the root causes of poverty and fosters sustainable economic growth in developing nations."
The McGovern-Dole initiative provides funding to WFP, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, World Vision and others. These agencies provide the school meals.
The problem is there is not a lot of funding available for school meals. Yesterday's grants totaled well under U.S. $ 200 million dollars. There are countries including Haiti, Central African Republic, South Sudan and many others who need the support for school meals.
WFP recently learned it would not be receiving new funding from McGovern-Dole for Haiti. The funding, if available, would have fed over 200,000 children there.
Grace Tillyard of WFP Haiti says, "The school meals program is an essential social safety net for the country and the impact of having to reduce the number of students we feed would be very hard for many families. It would undoubtedly have a great effect on school attendance, where the poorest families would be forced to pull their children out of school."
With Congress making decisions on the yearly budget, they should look to increase funding to feed children globally. It's especially crucial considering the number of countries impacted by conflict and disasters. Just in the last six months we have seen wars escalate in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Sudan and of course the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Congress can boost the McGovern-Dole and Food for Peace programs so they have more funding. It's also important that the U.S. establish a food ambassador to build the support worldwide for feeding children, because we cannot do it alone. We have to build the global and regional support among all governments.
The ultimate goal is where countries can have their own national school lunch program, supported by local food sources. Some countries need just some help to get there. Others need a lot. All of them need national school lunch programs if they are to progress as a society. That is a goal in everyone's interest.
WFP says, "U.S. $3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children." With U.S. leadership and a coalition of nations behind this goal, you would think that number could be achieved.
Throughout their careers, McGovern and Dole have fought for school lunches for all children, both here in the U.S. and abroad. That is the goal we have to keep seeking.