According to FAO, the study, A Panorama of School Feeding and the Possibilities for Direct Purchases from Family Farming - Case Studies in Eight Countries (Spanish only), indicates that these programmes both promote school attendance and bolster the learning process.
Additionally, all countries studied showed interest in sourcing food for school programs from family farmers as a way to foster local development.
"This is a triple-win approach: it secures quality food for students of public schools, promotes consumption of fresh and healthy food, and opens new markets and the possibility of higher incomes for family farmers while boosting local development," said FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva.
All told, the various programs profiled by the regional study include 18 million students of different ages and educational levels, with a combined budget of approximately $940 million, representing an annual net investment of $25 per student. Funding is primarily destined for the purchase and distribution of food.
Growing political commitment
The commitment of governments in the region to school feeding programmes has grown, the study finds. Almost all countries examined have expressed interest in implementing a policy of direct purchases from small producers to supply their school feeding programs.
However, FAO also notes that legal and regulatory frameworks are required to facilitate the integration of small producers into government supply networks..
"The study shows that tackling the challenges of school feeding programs requires the involvement of various actors, including governments, parliamentarians, international organizations, private sector, the educational community and civil society," said Najla Veloso, coordinator of FAO's regional work in this area.
The study on school feeding programmes was supported by the Brazil-FAO International Cooperation Programme, which is engaged in a series of activities aimed at helping countries achieve various Millennium Development Goals.
Brazil's experience with school feeding programmes has a 50 year history. By 2012, its national feeding program reached nearly 45 million students.
"The Brazilian government is ready to contribute to the development and improvement of school feeding programmes not only in Latin America, but also in Africa," said Albaneide Peixinho, general coordinator of Brazil's School Feeding National Programme.
Given the advances shown by school feeding programmes highlighted in the regional study, FAO and the government of Brazil are stressing the need to translate the political commitment shown by countries into concrete school feeding policies and institutions, to guarantee the quality and nutritional value of food in schools.