By Alessio Orgera and Regina Bakhteeva in Suriname


School meals in Suriname

Suriname is ecstatic about the major step they have taken to join the School Meals Coalition in September last year. The Minister of Education, Science and Culture, H.E. Henry Ori, says this demonstrates the government’s commitment to school feeding and efforts to ensure the wellbeing of children. “Expanding our national school feeding programme and investing in its nutritional quality and sustainability is a key priority for us. We believe that through this investment, we can contribute to reducing poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition in the country,” said the Minister.


Having benefitted himself from school meals, he said he is no stranger to the benefits that come with receiving a nutritious meal in school. “Despite some challenges, as government, we are optimistic that by joining the School Meals Coalition, we are on track in ensuring a bright future for the country.” After joining the School Meals Coalition, the Government participated in the Coalition’s First Global Summit held in Paris in October last year.


“Similar to what the Coalition stands for, our vision is to reach all schoolchildren with a nutritious meal by 2030. We are doing this through a gradual approach allowing us to test, consolidate and scale up best practices to effectively deliver sustainable school meals.” Minister Ori said the government is also focusing on strengthening national legal and policy frameworks to guarantee stability and foster financial sustainability and accountability of interventions.”


A small country in the Dutch-speaking Caribbean, with a population of 613,000, Suriname faces increasing levels of poverty and food insecurity. According to the World Bank, Suriname’s economy started contracting in 2015, with the situation worsening due to rising inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and exposure to extreme climatic events such as recurrent floods. Latest studies show an estimated 26 percent of the population lives in poverty. A 2023 Food Security and Livelihoods Survey conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Caribbean Community (CARICOM), estimated 46 percent of the population to be food insecure. In addition, the Global Nutrition Report shows Suriname has demonstrated limited progress towards achieving the diet-related non-communicable disease (NCD) targets, with 36.7 percent of women and 21.5 percent of men living with obesity, and anaemia affecting over 21 percent of women of reproductive age.


Minister of Education, Science and Culture of Suriname, H.E. Henry Ori

Minister of Education, Science and Culture of Suriname, H.E. Henry Ori

Minister Ori said the country is investing in partnerships to expand school meals to address hunger and malnutrition among children. “Our immediate concern is reaching vulnerable children especially in the most remote areas, in the interior of the country. This will require national authorities, local communities, and national and international partners to join efforts to make it happen.”.


Currently there are several initiatives reaching children at school. For example, the Office of the First Lady, H.E. Mellisa Santokhi-Seenacherry, is implementing a healthy sandwich and juice programme supporting 15,000 children. Several other private and community-based initiatives across the country are also providing either healthy sandwiches or nutritious hot meals in schools.
This is complementing another school meal programme the Ministry of Education is implementing, providing food to over 15,000 children. “These efforts are commendable but covering less than half of the schools in the country. Our interventions now are lacking the necessary financial stability and continuity to maximize the nutritional impact over time. We need to invest in a sustainable programme to ensure that all schoolchildren receive healthy, nutritious food at school throughout the schoolyear,” Minister Ori said.


Past efforts in Suriname’s school feeding programme show there are opportunities that can be explored to improve the national programme. For example, under the Mexico-Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) project, the Ministries of Education and Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries have generated best practices on how to successfully collaborate to improve the quality of school-based programmes. Activities at the time included improving links with smallholder farmers and creating school nutrition gardens, which are still functioning in a few schools.


Minister Ori said while these lessons are shaping renewed efforts in school meals, being part of the School Meals Coalition will also help Suriname to connect and learn from other countries on how to stimulate its food system and foster partnerships between farmers and schools.


“We are looking forward to gaining a lot to improve linkages between school meals and other sectors as well as improving our ability to mobilise funding to scale up a quality national school feeding programme.”