– Marco Carvalho

The World Food Programme, the Armenian authorities and a Russian institute has set a nutritional revolution on course in Armenia. This small nation of the Caucasus is still haunted by malnutrition and food insecurity and to tackle the issue, the United Nations have been providing hot, nutritious meals 180 days a year to 90 per cent of the children enrolled in Armenian schools. The World Food Programme and the local Government went a step further and developed a recipe book to teach schools how to prepare healthy and balanced meals with local resources and traditional methods. Their effort was recognized by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards with a special endowment. The prize was delivered in Macau during the weekend. O Clarim spoke with Alessandro Moretti, partnership officer of the World Food Programme in Armenia.

Can you tell me a little bit more about this School Meal Recipe Book. This is something that we cannot find very often: a recipe book intended for the preparation of balanced meals for school children. How unique is this book?

Well, it’s not really something new or unique. This is part of the operations of one of the United Nations World Food Programme. It’s an international organization operating all around the world, in 83 countries and supporting more than 87 million people. The recipe book we brought to Macau comes from the operations that the World Food Programme develops in Armenia. One of our key principles in that country – and the main reason why we operate in Armenia – is to ensure that every person has access to food, starting from the children, starting from the future generations of Armenia. Our activities aim to support – and are already supporting since 2010 –  100,000 kids in 90 per cent of the schools across Armenia. We support the schools, either providing directly food or financial support, so that the schools can go to the local markets and procure and buy everyday directly from local producers fresh and nutritious food. Then, in order to make sure that kids can have balanced diets and nutritious food everyday, we have developed together with community members – the parents, the chefs and our partners – this recipe book that contains recipes of meals that are part of the tradition of Armenia and that have been widely consumed by the Armenian population around the world. The recipe book contains recipes on nutritious food, while also describing the macro and micro nutrients of every dish. We are also trying to make healthy food nice, fun and interesting for kids because what we wish is also to promote healthy lifestyles and balanced meals …

You were saying that one of the aims of the project is to give Armenian children access to food. Are malnutrition and food scarcity still visible problems in Armenia?

Yes, absolutely. The problem is that malnutrition and food insecurity are growing. Every year, with our United Nation sister agencies, such as FAO and UNICEF, we produce reports that analyze the status of food insecurity in the world and, in fact, across the world, in 2016, we have seen an increase in food insecurity. In Armenia, specifically, there are a lot of geographical disparities. In the northern regions of the country, food insecurity can reach up to 26 per cent, which means that one in every four people is food insecure in some of the regions, while on average, in the country, one in every six people is food insecure. The World Food Programme in Armenia is supporting the fight against hunger, making sure that we can fight malnutrition and food insecurity, while also lifting the most vulnerable out of poverty. So, by working with the schools and supporting the schools and the school children everyday with school meals we are also using schools as a platform for change. We want to teach communities and we want to teach kids about healthy, nutritious lifestyles. We want to improve the linkages between schools and local markets so that local markets also get empowered in producing more nutritional diversified food. We are also supporting them so that they can produce, process and market the extreme potential of the agricultural sector in Armenia. All of this with the aim to make sure that everybody has access to nutritious food, everyday for the rest of their lives. We are also, and foremost, working on nutrition campaigns to teach the communities and explain people about the importance of developing a healthy, nutritional lifestyle.

How is this program being accepted? How do the children react to this kind of approach?

The kids are very happy. I think that the key to the success of this is books is the fact that it has been written and designed together with the community members, together with the children and the families but, most importantly also, with the support of the Government of Armenia. The Ministry of Education – and also our partners from SIFI – we have been, all together, listening to the stories of the people and we have been reflecting about what people expectations are when it comes to eat. This is why the success of the book also translates in having kids that are healthier, but also kids that have fun while eating. The favorite moment of their day is now getting together with their friends around fantastic, delicious and nutritious meals everyday.

I assume that, for this to work, there are programs in order to teach the people that work on the school canteens …

Exactly. The school helpers and the kitchen helpers are actually the agents in all this process. They are the ones that are transforming Armenia.

The book was distinguished with a special award in the Gourmand World Prize Awards. This is something big for the program…

It is something fantastic, also and foremost, because the book is, for the World Food Programme in Armenia a vehicle to channel information about the importance of having a healthy lifestyle and consuming nutritionally rich food. Most importantly, it is also a recognition for the parents, for the communities, for the children and for the Government of Armenia. We are all proud for having made a product that can really change the culture and the nutritional behavior habits of the population.

The World Food Programme is doing the same thing in other countries? Compiling recipe books based on a traditional diet in order to try to change food habits?

The School Feeding Programme is the flagship operation of the World Food Programme and it is operated almost all around the world. It is one of the ways in which the World Food Programme  globally aims to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition, starting by investing in the future generations of a country.

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