What the PH can learn from Thai school nutrition programs

Fritzie Rodriguez

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To combat child malnutrition, Thailand has been implementing a national government-funded school lunch and milk feeding program since 1992

FOOD FOR THE YOUNG. To address child nutrition problems, Thailand has been implementing a national government-funded school lunch and milk feeding program since 1992. Photo from the World Food Programme

MANILA, Philippines – Hunger not only digs holes in the stomach, but also in the mind.

If children do not get enough support at home or in schools, their present and future development may be compromised. 

To avoid such scenarios, public schools are encouraged to conduct feeding and nutrition education programs. The latter is not only for students, but also for parents.

Thailand was among the first countries to implement “primary care” which promotes volunteerism and community involvement. Trained Thai volunteers work towards ending child malnutrition, especially in rural areas.

In a span of 30 years, child malnutrition in Thailand drastically dropped from 36% (1975) to 8.42% (2005), according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

One of the best in Asia

WFP calls Thailand’s nutrition programs as “one of the most successful in Asia.”

Thailand’s School Lunch Programme (SLP) aims to “alleviate the nutritional problems among schoolchildren” by providing free lunch to the poor or underweight, while also educating students about “desirable eating habits, values, and social manners.”

It covers all public kindergarten and elementary schools, including those in remote rural areas (approximately 30,000 schools). It has benefitted around two million primary school students and 700,000 preschoolers as of 2011.

SLP runs for 200 days of the school year. This is longer than the 120-day school feeding programs implemented in the Philippines by the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

As of 2004, the program has allotted 10 Baht/child, multiplied by 200 days, the total annual budget per child is 2,000 Baht (P 2,750). This is higher than DepEd’s (P1,920) and DSWD’s (P1,560) allotments.

In the beginning, SLP focused on the quantity of meals produced; once that was achieved, the focus shifted to the “meal quality and nutritional content.”

To augment government funding, schools also promote “rice, fruit and vegetable cultivation, poultry, livestock, and fish farming.” These school programs are supported by agriculture colleges and the private sector.

SLP also promotes rice-based culinary culture, agricultural education and training.

Role of the Thai government

To address food and nutrition problems, the Thai government prioritized human development and family participation, with the vision of “achieving nutritional well-being for all Thais.”

The program also aims to enhance food security and children’s full growth and development.

As early as the 1950s, Thailand has been conducting school feeding programs. However, it did not get the government’s full support. In 1992, Thailand implemented by law the National School Lunch Feeding Program (SLP). The program secures an annual funding from the central government.

In the Philippines, DepEd’s School-Based Feeding Program only began in 2010, while DSWD’s Supplementary Feeding Program began in 2011.

It is also interesting to note that the number of school dropouts in Thailand as of 2009 was 611,000 – fewer compared to the Philippines (1.4 million cases), according to the latest statistics from the the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Thai schools work with private catering services, local producers, as well as with teachers, students, parents and volunteers. Students take turns in food preparation, serving, and cleaning duties.

Thailand’s Ministry of Education also values the importance of food education, school agriculture, and community involvement. It takes pride in supporting locally produced or “home-grown” foods.

SLP is implemented under Thailand’s Ministry of Education, with support from the Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of LGUs.

Thailand’s School Milk Program

Thailand’s School Milk Program (SMP) is also funded by the central government. SMP runs for 230 days of the school year, benefitting around 6 million children.

Its main goals are:

  • Promote children’s healthy growth
  • Increase school attendance (through the offer of free milk)
  • Support local dairy farmers

WFP noted the positive impact of SMP, citing a big leap in the annual per capita milk consumption from 1984 (2 liters) to 2002 (23 liters). Thailand’s dairy market also boomed, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

SMP is carried out by Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture, with the help of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Interior, LGUs, and schools.

The program originated from Thailand’s National Milk Drinking Campaign Board, with the slogan, “Have you had your milk today?” The Board was established in 1985 as a response to dairy farmers’ gripes over unsold milk.

Lessons to be learned

Although Thailand’s school nutrition programs are not perfect – needs coverage and budget expansion – the Philippines can still learn a lot from the Thai model.

One of the Thai model’s highlights is the efficiency of the government agencies in charge of SLP and SMP. The Ministries of Education, Interior, and Agriculture work together towards improving children’s health and nutrition, as well as the livelihoods of local farmers and producers.

The Thai government also provides ample support, even beyond the financial, for the sustainability and further enhancement of such programs.

Thailand embraces, maximizes, and works towards improving its agriculture. Small farmers are given enough attention, and students are encouraged to learn agricultural skills.

Lastly, Thai nutrition programs value both quality and quantity of joint efforts. Numbers are not everything, it is the children who matter the most. – Rappler.com

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