The Government of Armenia is strengthening its capacity to efficiently manage the National School Meals programme with technical support from partners such as the World Food Programme. In 2021, a year before taking over full ownership of the programme, Armenia joined the School Meals Coalition demonstrating government’s commitment to fully own, finance and institutionalise school meals to become more inclusive, planet-friendly, resilient, and sustainable.
Following the transition, Armenia is improving its education policy to include school meals and make them as equally important in helping the country achieve its education, health, and poverty alleviation goals.
Currently, the programme reaches over 106,000 children with hot lunch meals in 10 provinces, up from 12,000 children in 2010.
In remarks at the School Meals Coalition first Global Summit in Paris, Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, Mr. Artur Martirosyan said: “This was made possible through our core-funding mechanism and other innovative financing schemes such as urban and commercial arrangements, and others we are still exploring.”
He said the government established an agency that oversees and coordinates the entire operation and has further invested in improving the quality of the school meals programme by placing cooks on regular salaries from the symbolic wages they had previously received.
Mr. Martirosyan said the goal to improve handling and preparation of school meals as well as increase their nutritional value has created opportunities to invest more in enhancing school meals connection with food systems, climate action, local communities, and businesses.
“We would like schools to buy more locally procured food, including fruits and vegetables. Food produced by smallholder farmers should feature on school menus to complement nutrition educational programmes helping us to promote healthy diets and lifestyles among all our children,” said Mr. Martirosyan.
The government is also supporting schools to grow nutritious foods to further improve school meal diets. Through the “school to community model” over 50 schools constructed greenhouses and planted berry gardens and orchards to produce seasonal fruits and vegetables.
To make school meal programmes as inclusive as possible, the “Arpi” school meals model is promoting community-generated investment in financing school meals activities. This unique model provides assets such as solar panels and farming equipment to schools, small to medium enterprises, and smallholder farmers to generate additional revenue towards school meals and community development.
Deputy Minister Martirosyan emphasized the importance of building a resilient national programme that provides school meals even in the event of crises.
Following a conflict in Nargono Karabakh region, hundreds of families were displaced, and many children were accommodated in Armenian schools.
“We are ensuring that all children, including those displaced by the conflict, receive, equally, all the benefits that we provide in our schools, including school meals,” Mr. Martirosyan said.