South-South cooperation: Two countries, four teams, and a shared journey towards Zero Hunger
A study visit from Libya to Zambia uncovered key learnings from Zambia’s experience using school meals and hydroponics to tackle food security
By Lucrecia Bellido and Gulia Rakhimova
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) provides a lifeline to health and nutrition for millions of children through school meals and supports national government ownership of school meal programmes.
South-South and triangular cooperation, that is, the exchange of knowledge, resources, and technical know-how among developing countries, is a key enabler of these efforts. A study visit of the Government of Libya to Zambia served as such a platform, revealing critical learnings from Zambia’s experience implementing hydroponics at schools.
The study visit
The WFP Innovation Accelerator, WFP’s Country Offices in Libya and Zambia, and the Regional Centre of Excellence against Hunger and Malnutrition (CERFAM) co-organized a study visit from Libya to Zambia in May this year. The purpose of the study visit was to explore opportunities for pioneering home-grown school meal programmes in Libya based on Zambia’s experience.
Governments are increasingly sourcing home-grown food from smallholder farmers to support local agriculture and provide children with safe, diverse, nutritious food. School meals increase school enrolment and attendance levels by offering children a regular source of healthy food. They relieve hunger and malnutrition, enabling children to learn and achieve their full potential.
While characterized by opposed ecological-geological conditions, Zambia and Libya have extensive knowledge to share and learn from each other in this space. A mission from the Government of Libya and colleagues from CERFAM, WFP’s Country Office in Libya, and WFP Regional Bureau for Eastern Africa, visited Lusaka to see and learn about Zambia’s government-led school meal programmes.
Hydroponics for school meals
Zambia’s national school meal programme covers approximately 1.9 million primary school children in 10 provinces. The study visit focused on Zambia’s experience with H2Grow, WFP’s innovation project using hydroponics.
Hydroponics is a soilless cultivation technique that uses up to 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture, enabling people to grow food all year; it plays a significant role in Zambia as a complementary approach to school gardening and food security. H2Grow has reached more than 72,700 people in 21 countries, bringing locally adaptable and affordable hydroponics solutions to communities facing hunger. It provides schools and communities with a reliable source of nutritious food and animal fodder.
H2Grow is scaling not only by expanding the operations on the ground but also by enabling others to use the hydroponics technique through its H2Grow Community digital platform. The platform brings together hydroponics technical experts and practitioners to share good practices and technical guidance that can find a role in humanitarian operations. WFP participants from Libya and Zambia were first connected through this platform.
The study visit started at Zambia’s Ministry of General Education, where participants had the opportunity to discuss strategic and programmatic aspects of the school meal programme highlighting achievements and challenges faced by each country. The analyses of the two countries’ contexts sought to uncover lessons learned from Zambia’s experience and anticipate context-related challenges when replicating some of the strategies in Libya.
One of the most important lessons learnt is that the decentralised approach to the school meal programme in Zambia, in which responsibility and autonomy were delegated to provincial and district authorities, was effective. In Zambia, the procurement strategy focuses on decentralising the entire process of sourcing, transporting and storing food commodities. This approach promotes the sustainability of school meal programmes, reduces costs, and ensures stronger linkages between schools and smallholder farmers, stimulating demand for locally produced food.
At the same time, Zambian counterparts appreciated Libya’s capacity to enable agriculture and manage natural resources in the country’s harsh deserted landscape. Knowledge and expertise in this area are crucial as climate change, desertification, and land degradation threaten food security globally. Likewise, Zambia suffers from extreme weather events and a lack of rainfall caused by climate change that contribute to food insecurity.
As part of the study visit, participants explored the Model School Hydroponics Gardens supported by the WFP Innovation Accelerator in Woodland Primary School in Lusaka and St. Vincent School in Monze. Students shared that access to fresh vegetables from hydroponic gardens has improved their diets; they also learned hydroponics production techniques and can use this knowledge and skills in the future as an income-generating activity. There are currently 71 schools producing vegetables using hydroponics in Zambia.
Participants also stopped at the school kitchen during the meal distribution to students to gain further insights into the school meals management. Local farmers participated in the exchanges, and the team could learn more about the role and contribution of smallholder farming to school meals. In Zambia, home-grown school meal programmes provide children with locally grown, nutritious food and support local markets and food systems. Stable market access and income help smallholder farmers expand their business prospects, minimising the risks of post-harvest loss.
Feeding the future
The enthusiasm and learning process could be observed throughout the study visit. The participants were inspired by the effectiveness of the decentralised school meals system and the use of innovative approaches such as hydroponics in Zambia. This experience served as an invitation to introspection and retrospection for each stakeholder. For Libyan counterparts, this meant understanding how the resources could be allocated for potential home-grown school meal programmes in the Libyan context, based on the good practices from Zambia.
This South-South exchange can inspire other countries to engage in similar knowledge exchange activities, connect with like-minded stakeholders, and co-create a hunger-free future together. Ultimately, envisioning a strong community of tomorrow starts by feeding the children of today.
Read more about WFP’s H2Grow innovation project.
The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.
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