ROME – Amidst a global food crisis, a new report says governments worldwide are increasingly convinced that school meals are a powerful and cost-effective way of ensuring vulnerable children get the food they need.

Almost 420 million children worldwide receive school meals, according to the State of School Feeding Worldwide report, issued by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). At a time when 345 million people face crisis levels of hunger, including 153 million children and young people, school meals are a critical safety net for vulnerable children and households, the report said.

“The near $50 billion industry in school meal programs worldwide offers a promising opportunity to help secure the future of the world’s children,” the report said, noting that 75 governments have now joined a coalition that aims to ensure every child can receive a daily, nutritious meal in school by 2030.

Thanks to a determined effort by the governments to restore free lunch programs after the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of children receiving meals globally is now 30 million higher than in 2020.

“This is good news. Governments are making the well-being of children a priority and investing in the future,” said Carmen Burbano, the U.N. World Food Programme’s head of school-based programs. “As the world grapples with a global food crisis, which risks robbing millions of children of their future, school meals have a vital role to play. In many of the countries where we work, the meal a child gets in school might be the only meal they get that day.”

The global recovery received crucial support from the government-led School Meals Coalition, an important network for information exchange and advocacy that was formed in 2020 in response to the pandemic’s impacts.

The report also highlighted differences between the high-income world, where 60% of school children get meals, and low-income countries where only 18% do. While the recovery was rapid in most countries, the number of children fed in school in low-income countries is still 4% below pre-COVID levels, with the biggest declines observed in Africa. This was despite low-income countries increasing their domestic financing for school meals by around 15% since 2020.

Some low-income countries have been unable to rebuild their national programs and need more help. In eight African countries, less than 10% of schoolchildren receive a free or subsidized meal in school, the report showed.

“Investments are lowest where children need school meals the most,” said Burbano. “We need to support low-income countries in finding more sustainable ways of funding these programs. This will require time-bound support from donor countries as well as increases in domestic investment.”

School meal programs worldwide offer a range of benefits. A free lunch attracts more children – especially girls – to school, enables them to learn better when they are there and helps them maintain good health. The report also noted that a combination of health and education offers children in low-income countries the best route out of poverty and malnutrition.

Research has shown that school meals programs can increase enrollment rates by 9% and attendance by 8%. The report also cited research showing that school meals programs can have beneficial effects on agriculture, education, health and nutrition, and social protection, with $9 in returns for every $1 invested.

When school meals programs are linked to local small-scale farmers, they also benefit local economies and support the establishment of more sustainable food systems. For every 100,000 children fed through a school meal program, almost 1,400 jobs are created – leading to around 4 million jobs in 85 countries.

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About the United Nations World Food Programme
The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the world’s leading humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change

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FAO, IFAD and WFP push to enhance rural women and girls’ digital capabilities so they can be equal contributors to our agrifood systems.

ROME – Inclusive access to digital technologies and education is crucial to reducing gender inequalities and empowering rural women and girls. That was the message from three United Nations’ food and agriculture agencies as they marked International Women’s Day 2023.

Participants at the event, co-organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), recognized that while digitalization on its own cannot solve all the gender-related disadvantages women face, if provided with equal access to digital technology and education, women can have a more active and effective role in our agrifood systems.

“Admittedly, it is discouraging to celebrate International Women’s Day at a time when we are going backwards on gender equality and are seeing widening gender gaps in science, technology and innovation,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol. “When we invest in rural women, we invest in resilience, in the future of our communities and in creating a more inclusive and equitable world – one where no one is left behind.”

“Without increased access to digital technology and innovation, rural women and girls will continue to face barriers and socio-economic disadvantages, making it harder for them to fully participate in rural economies,” said IFAD Associate Vice-President Jyotsna Puri, Strategy and Knowledge Department. “Gender inequality and the urban-rural divide will only worsen unless we create a more inclusive and prosperous society for everyone.”

“Food security for households and communities is in the hands of the women. It is only through women’s empowerment that we can build a world where no one goes to sleep hungry,” said the U.N. World Food Programme’s Deputy Executive Director, Valerie Guarnieri. “Putting resources in the hands of women is a no-brainer and with this comes the transfer of knowledge and skills including digital literacy to help these women realize their full potential. Now that’s the kind of game changer that we can all get behind.”

While there is a rapid proliferation of digital tools and services, women continue to face systemic and structural barriers in accessing and adopting new technologies. Evidence on the gender gap indicates that globally 69% of men are using the internet compared with 63% of women. Women in low- and middle-income countries are 16% less likely to use mobile internet than men, and progress in reducing the mobile internet gender gap has stalled.

Recent statistics show that this contrast is even starker in rural areas. Rural women are particularly disadvantaged in terms of access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and less likely to engage with ICT solutions due to constraints such as affordability, illiteracy, user capabilities, and discriminatory social norms.

Under the theme: DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality:  Leveraging the transformative power of inclusive digitalization and innovation for rural women and girls

Today’s event in Rome brought together thought leaders, policy and change makers who are working on innovative solutions to bring about gender equality in rural areas and beyond. Discussions also highlighted the achievements of rural women related to digital literacy, digital skills and agripreneurship.

Event panelists included: Kusum Balsaraf, general manager of Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal; Su Stephanou, founder of Green Dreams and iCow; Claudia Carbajal Morelos, director at Precision Development; Isabelle Carboni, insights director, Digital Inclusion, Mobile for Development, GSMA; and Cesar Maita Azpiri, senior innovation manager, Global Gender unit at IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative.

FAO works to promote the adoption of specific digital technologies through initiatives like the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture, FAO Digital Portfolio, E-Agriculture Community of Practice and the 1000 Digital Villages. The FAO Office of Innovation established the Global Network on Digital Agriculture and Innovation Hubs to foster innovation within their digital agriculture ecosystem, with a special focus on women and young agripreneurs, among other programs. Next month, FAO will launch a new report entitled the Status of Women in Agrifood Systems, which will provide evidence on how empowering women can lift millions of people out of hunger and make agrifood systems more resilient and sustainable.

IFAD is an international financial institution and a United Nations specialized agency. Based in Rome – the United Nations food and agriculture hub – IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, IFAD has provided more than $24 billion in grants and low-interest loans to fund projects in low- and middle-income countries.

The U.N. World Food Programme’s work on digital financial literacy helps communities enhance their livelihoods, access financial services and tools and, in the long run, strengthen their food security. For example, through its cash-based transfer programs across the globe, the U.N. World Food Programme seeks to directly address the barriers to digital and financial services borne out of socio-cultural norms and gender-based stereotypes. By assisting women with digital and financial literacy trainings and working with community champions, the U.N. World Food Programme helps them to open their own banking, mobile money or other digital accounts. This brings economic benefits including food security to these women and, in turn, their families and entire societies.

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Washington, D.C. (February 27, 2023) — World Food Program USA has made a $1 million grant in support of the United Nations World Food Programme’s (WFP) Rapid Rural Transformation (RRT) programs across southern Madagascar. This grant is part of a new strategic initiative at World Food Program USA to invest in targeted, programmatic solutions with the potential for long-term impact.

The RRT program, currently in a pilot phase, combines two climate risk mitigation strategies: strengthened natural resource management and diversification of incomes. RTT projects provide remote communities with vital infrastructure services including solar-powered hubs, a sustainable water source and online health check-ups – all of which greatly improve people’s quality of life. These scalable solutions help communities build food security as well as their resilience to climate shocks.

“While emergency assistance staves off hunger in the short-term, the chronic food insecurity we see in Madagascar – one of the world’s poorest and most disaster-prone countries – can only be meaningfully addressed by adequate investment in tackling its root causes,” said Barron Segar, president and CEO of World Food Program USA. “We felt it was important to directly invest in this innovative, long-term solution to build resiliency and drive development one village at a time. We’re excited to continue this approach to ensure overlooked projects are getting the resources they need.”

Each RRT hub, which is managed by regional authorities, allows various partners to set up integrated community services. These services include training centers for women and youth on food production and business skills, digital classrooms, solar-powered drip irrigation systems and hydroponics. The program will ultimately provide provide an ecosystem of integrated services needed to drive rural transformation in remote areas. The project kicked off in June 2022 and is currently about 75% of the way through construction and installation.

“The initiative is a game-changer,” says Pasqualina di Sirio, the U.N. World Food Programme’s country director in Madagascar. “Working with the government, the integrated services approach helps us to stimulate grassroots development, while addressing rural communities’ most pressing needs. Our plan is to expand the initiative to other villages and regions.”

Madagascar is among the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate disasters, which is a key driver of food insecurity in the region. Nearly 2 million people – over one-third of the south’s population – are estimated to face crisis or emergency levels of hunger, a number that is projected to surpass 2 million later this year. The U.N. World Food Programme has developed wide-ranging efforts to address the drivers of hunger and build resilience at the roots but such initiatives are significantly under-funded.

This is not the first time World Food Program USA has raised significant funds for Madagascar. In November 2021, the organization raised more than $4 million when ABC World News Tonight’s David Muir traveled to Madagascar to cover communities on the brink of famine.


About the United Nations World Food Programme  

The U.N. World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

About World Food Program USA

World Food Program USA, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, DC, proudly supports the mission of the United Nations World Food Programme by mobilizing American policymakers, businesses and individuals to advance the global movement to end hunger. To learn more about World Food Program USA’s mission, please visit

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ROME – The world is at risk of yet another year of record hunger as the global food crisis continues to drive yet more people into worsening levels of severe hunger, warns the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in a call for urgent action to address the root causes of today’s crisis ahead of World Food Day on October 16.

The global food crisis is a confluence of competing crises – caused by climate shocks, conflict and economic pressures – that has pushed the number of severely hungry people around the world from 282 million to 345 million in just the first months of 2022. The U.N. World Food Programme scaled up food assistance targets to reach a record 153 million people in 2022, and by mid-year had already delivered assistance to 111.2 million people.

“We are facing an unprecedented global food crisis and all signs suggest we have not yet seen the worst. For the last three years hunger numbers have repeatedly hit new peaks. Let me be clear: things can and will get worse unless there is a large scale and coordinated effort to address the root causes of this crisis. We cannot have another year of record hunger,” said U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley.

The U.N. World Food Programme and humanitarian partners are holding back famine in five countries: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Too often, it is conflict that drives the most vulnerable into catastrophic hunger with communications disrupted, humanitarian access restricted and communities displaced. The conflict in Ukraine has also disrupted global trade – pushing up transport costs and lead times while leaving farmers without access to the agricultural inputs they need. The knock-on effect on upcoming harvests will reverberate around the world.

Climate shocks are increasing in frequency and intensity, leaving those affected no time to recover between disasters. An unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa is pushing more people into alarming levels of food insecurity, with famine now projected in Somalia. Floods have devastated homes and farmland in several countries, most strikingly in Pakistan.  Anticipatory action must be at the core of the humanitarian response to protect the most vulnerable from these shocks – and a core part of the agenda at the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) next month in Egypt.

Meanwhile, governments’ ability to respond is constrained by their own economic woes – currency depreciation, inflation, debt distress – as the threat of global recession also mounts. This will see an increasing number of people unable to afford food and needing humanitarian support to meet their basic needs.

The U.N. World Food Programme’s operational plan for 2022 is the agency’s most ambitious ever. It prioritizes action to prevent millions of people from dying of hunger while working to stabilize – and where possible build – resilient national food systems and supply chains.

So far this year, the U.N. World Food Programme has increased assistance six-fold in Sri Lanka in response to the economic crisis, launched an emergency flood response in Pakistan and expanded operations to records levels in Somalia as famine looms. In Afghanistan, two out of every five Afghans have been supported by U.N. World Food Programme assistance. The U.N. World Food Programme also launched an emergency operation in Ukraine and opened a new office Moldova to support families fleeing the conflict.

With the cost of delivering assistance rising and lead times increasing, the U.N. World Food Programme continues to diversify its supplier base, including boosting local and regional procurement: So far in 2022, 47% of the food the U.N. World Food Programme has purchased is from countries where it operates – a value of $1.2 billion. The U.N. World Food Programme has also expanded the use of cash-based transfers to deliver food assistance in the most efficient and cost-effective way in the face of these rising costs. Cash transfers now represent 35% of the agency’s emergency food assistance.

The U.N. World Food Programme has secured $655 million in contributions and service provision agreements from international financial institutions to support national social protection systems. Similar efforts are underway to expand innovative climate financing partnerships. The U.N. World Food Programme continues to support governments with supply chain services, such as the procurement and transport of food commodities to replenish national grain reserves to support national safety net programs.

While these efforts provide succor to some of the severely vulnerable, it is against a challenging global backdrop in which the number of acutely hungry people continues to increase requiring a concerted global action for peace, economic stability and continued humanitarian support to ensure food security around the world.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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NAIROBI – Almost a month into the current rainy season, desperately needed rains across the Horn of Africa have so far failed to materialize. If these conditions continue, the number of hungry people due to drought could spiral from the currently estimated 14 million to 20 million through 2022, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.

With Somalia facing the risk of famine, half a million Kenyans one step away from catastrophic levels of hunger and malnutrition rates in Ethiopia well above emergency thresholds, time is fast running out for families who are struggling to survive.

“We know from past experience that acting early to avert a humanitarian catastrophe is vital, yet our ability to launch the response has been limited due to a lack of funding to date,” said Michael Dunford, U.N. World Food Programme’s regional director for Eastern Africa. “The U.N. World Food Programme and other humanitarian agencies have been warning the international community since last year that this drought could be disastrous if we didn’t act immediately, but funding has failed to materialize at the scale required.”

The situation has been compounded by the fallout of conflict in Ukraine, with the cost of food and fuel soaring to unprecedented highs. Drought-affected countries across the Horn of Africa are likely to be the hardest hit by impacts of the conflict – the cost of a food basket has already risen, particularly in Ethiopia (66%) and Somalia (36%) which depend heavily on wheat from Black Sea basin countries. The disruption in imports further threatens food security. Shipping costs on some routes have doubled since January 2022.

During the 2016/17 drought in the Horn of Africa, catastrophe was avoided through early action. Humanitarian assistance was scaled up before there was widespread hunger. In 2022, due to a severe lack of resourcing, there are growing fears that it won’t be possible to prevent the looming disaster – and millions will suffer as a result.

The U.N. World Food Programme last appealed for desperately needed funding in February, yet less than 4% of what was needed was raised. Over the next six months, the U.N. World Food Programme needs $473 million to scale-up assistance and save lives across the three countries – Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

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In Ethiopia crops have failed, over a million livestock have died and an estimated 7.2 million people wake up hungry every day in southern and southeastern Ethiopia as the country grapples with the most severe drought since 1981. The U.N. World Food Programme is on the ground, aiming to support 3.5 million people with emergency food and nutrition assistance, school feeding programs as well as climate change adaptation and resilience building activities. Immediate and scaled-up assistance is critical to avoid a major humanitarian crisis in the drought-affected areas of Ethiopia and help communities become more resilient to extreme climate shocks. The U.N. World Food Programme urgently requires $239 million over the next six months to respond to the drought in southern Ethiopia.

In Kenya, the number of people in need of assistance has risen more than fourfold in less than two years. According to the Short Rains Assessment, the rapidly escalating drought has left 3.1 million people acutely hungry (IPC3 and above), including half a million Kenyans who are facing emergency levels of hunger (IPC4). The U.N. World Food Programme urgently requires $42 million over the next six months to meet the needs of the most critically affected communities in northern and eastern parts of the country.

In Somalia, some 6 million people (40% of the population) are facing acute hunger (IPC3 or above) and, alarmingly, there is a very real risk of famine in the coming months if the rains don’t arrive and humanitarian assistance isn’t received. The U.N. World Food Programme is scaling up emergency food and nutrition assistance to support 3 million people by the middle of this year. However, a $192 million relief funding gap over the next six months means that the U.N. World Food Programme has less than half of what it needs to keep scaling up. As a result, the U.N. World Food Programme is having to prioritize both nutrition (where treatment has taken precedence over prevention) and food assistance. The U.N. World Food Programme has launched its largest anticipatory action intervention so far in Africa, equipping vulnerable Somali households in drought hotspots with additional cash transfers and a public information campaign to help them withstand the impact of a potential fourth failed rainy season. The U.N. World Food Programme is also continuing livelihoods, resilience and food systems programs to protect recent development gains and support vulnerable Somalis against droughts and other crises in the long term.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA, @wfp_media and @WFP_Africa

As the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death today, World Food Program USA remembers his legacy in the fight against hunger.

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