Taking care of the younger generation is a major public policy priority in all countries around the world, and school meals are certainly on their national agendas. Inadequate consumption of various nutrients and unbalanced nutrition linearly leads to short stature and anemia in children, as well as a whole bunch of other conditions in both boys and girls. Proper nutrition lays the foundation for a healthy or not so healthy generation, which later joins the workforce in each economy.
At present, Russia provides food aid to three countries – the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and the Tajik Republic – under the School Meals project. Prior to that, in 2010-2012, Russia also delivered school lunches to Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Other recipients were also discussed, but the crisis significantly affected those plans. They have been postponed, even though their relevance has most likely increased. The plans concerned several countries in Southeast Asia, such as Laos, Cambodia, etc.
As for Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, it should be noted that cooperation covers several areas and includes developing a regulatory framework, approving a school meal program based on the general political situation, developing and implementing a funding plan and organizing food supply.
Vladimir Chernigov, President of the Social and Industrial Food Service Institute, stressed:
“These are the tasks related to food security; however, we are not dealing with the problem of hunger, which is the responsibility of the World Food Program. And I hope that we have substantial experience in providing school meals that is based on Russian reality. Both the national governments and the Russian Federation are aware of these programs and support their development.”
Assistance with developing school meal programs focuses on creating impactful and effective competences, mechanisms and institutions for this kind of assistance in the countries themselves. If we speak about Armenia, for example, thanks to the work that started ten years ago, six out of the ten regions in the country are now supplied with meals funded by the state budget. When the project just started, not a single child was provided with a free meal in any of the regions. The World Food program in Armenia is funded at the condition that the Armenian government develops and implements a comprehensive program of transferring these competences to the national level.
Amid this year’s pandemic, Russia has been providing funding for the school catering system in Tajikistan. This is a major project of the UN World Food Program that covers 350K children. That is, these children receive school lunches thanks to Russia’s assistance.
“Children go to school every day and receive hot meals there because Russia allocated money for it. The meals are very simple. There is a basic selection of products, to which local residents add vegetables and fruit – depending on the season – from their allotment gardens. So children receive a relatively balanced meal, which is often better than the one they have at home. I think this assistance should not be underestimated, especially during these hard times. A friend in need is a friend indeed,” Vladimir Chernigov said.
As for Kyrgyzstan, the republic is one of the few, if not the only country that has retained state financing of school meals. The sum, however, is quite modest, and can only cover something like a scone and a cup of tea, but not a healthy balanced diet that children need. This is why Kyrgyzstan is taking active efforts to develop production and logistics chains from local farmers to local schoolchildren, with Russia providing financial assistance and sharing its extensive experience in logistics.
The tasks being solved in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia under the School Meals project are drastically different as regards the scope of work.
Crisis is a time for serious and comprehensive efforts to revise decisions, including even those that seem totally conventional, evident, necessary and important.
“I am pleased that revisions will take place. I am not happy they will take place due to the pandemic, but I believe that Russia will analyze and assess its policies towards all those it has provided assistance to and will choose the most reasonable and strategically proper one. I think certain measures will be continued and even stepped up, while some will apparently be postponed until the situation improves,” Vladimir Chernigov noted.
By Anna Zhurba