By Charlotte Bonnet in South Sudan


Learners at St. Bakhita Primary School in South Sudan harvest the nutritious okra vegetable from the school garden. Okra is one of the vegetables that children eat for lunch under the homegrown school meals programme. © WFP/ Eulalia Berlanga.

School meals are playing a crucial role in promoting access to education for children in South Sudan, a country where half of all school-aged children aren’t in the classroom due to a combination of conflict, poverty, underdevelopment, and gender norms that keep girls from the classroom.


The Government of South Sudan is investing in partnerships to increase financing and empower local communities, smallholder farmers, and businesses to build a more resilient Homegrown School Meals programme that can sustain supply of food to schools.


The South Sudanese Minister of Education, Honourable Awut Deng Acuil, says investing in growing this local network of partners is important because: “All of us were once children. We understand that if we need to build a better tomorrow, we need to start investing in our children’s education today.”


The homegrown model, piloted in two states of Western Equatoria and Northern Bar el Ghazal is also helping to stimulate markets and food systems, enabling schools to provide children with locally sourced food that is nutritious, delicious, and culturally accepted.


Currently, the pilot is reaching 5,400 children, giving hope for a brighter future to many vulnerable children, including those orphaned by the conflict. Increased coverage planned in four states is expected to reach 40,000 children this year.


Students like Agi Mary Felix, a class six student at Mangbondo Primary School, is happy to return to school where she knows her education, health and nutrition are well catered for.


“Before we started receiving these meals, some children were going home before time or eating only once a day. Without food we cannot pay attention to class,” Agi said.


While the children are happy to receive food at school, the programme has gone further in facilitating engagement with local communities, creating economic opportunities for smallholder farmers and jobs for women.


Minister Acuil says the programme is bringing together local leaders and communities to participate in sustained dialogues, creating opportunities to discuss working together to rebuild their communities. During these meetings, communities discuss their role in developing a more sustainable homegrown school meals programme tailored to the needs of the children and the communities.


“It is encouraging to see that in some regions, local community leaders are committing to contribute food and to assign people who can volunteer to cook meals in support of establishing and scaling up school meals in their local schools,” the Minister says.


With the local communities’ buy-in the government has established a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the two entities are working closely together to strengthen national capacity through 2024 and beyond.


These collaborative efforts led to the launching of the homegrown school meals pilot.


“We are seeing how local communities and farmers connected to school meals are producing food and supplying schools, making this approach a collective responsibility. In the process, the local communities are economically empowered, especially women smallholder farmers,” Minister Acuil proudly shares.


She is optimistic that the homegrown school meals model will continue to multiply benefits in schools, local communities and in the economy.


“This community-based approach is what we strategically need for progress in education, especially of girls, in our efforts to alleviate hunger and address malnutrition and to contribute to building a just and equal society,” says Minister Acuil.


The homegrown school meals model has embraced South Sudan’s realities. According to Minister Acuil by sourcing food locally, schools are ensuring that the food is delivered fresh, it does not go to waste, lowers the transport costs and is planet friendly. Importantly, she added, the children are familiar with the food. “The only issue for us is to ensure schools meet the nutritional requirements to improve the children’s health and learning capacity.”


To address this and complement the sorghum or maize the schools typically receive with other ingredients, some schools have started vegetable gardens, managed, and tended by the students with guidance from the teachers.