In a groundbreaking announcement, Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, the Minister of Climate Change and Environment in the United Arab Emirates, revealed the “UAE School Meals” initiative at the First Global Summit of the Global School Meals Coalition in Paris today. This visionary plan aims to provide complimentary school meals to all public school students across the nation by the year 2025.
Addressing an international audience of ministers and policymakers at the summit, Minister Almheiri explained, “Within the next two years, we will transition from providing no school meals to offering free, nutritious meals to all students in public schools. This transformative initiative has been inspired and informed by the School Meals Coalition, emphasizing the significance of nourishment in fostering a healthy childhood in the UAE and its long-term impact on education.”
The initial phase of this initiative is set to commence in 2023-2024, with full implementation and official launch scheduled for 2024-2025. Minister Almheiri emphasized the essential link between nutrition and education, stating, “While we can offer students exceptional schools and teachers, without proper nutrition, they cannot fully benefit from their education.”
Highlighting the importance of enhancing educational quality and outcomes, the Minister shared research findings indicating that every dollar invested in school meals results in saving nine dollars in the long run. Almheiri also stressed the economic and healthcare implications of not providing adequate nutrition to children early in life, underscoring the need for investing in healthier futures.
Furthermore, the Minister revealed a significant facet of the initiative by emphasizing its role in creating a new market for local farmers. “We are committed to ensuring that a minimum of 70% of the food items for the new school meals program will be locally sourced, thereby promoting job creation within low-income communities located near the schools,” she added.
Mariam Almheiri, who also serves as the COP28 Food Lead, emphasized the pivotal nature of the first 1,000 days in a child’s life and indicated plans to address the nutritional needs of early school years as well.
She went on to underscore the importance of Food Systems and transformation within the context of COP28, stating, “In July, the UAE unveiled its COP28 Food Systems and Agricultural Agenda, a bold initiative aimed at transforming global food systems and ensuring their long-term sustainability. Political will is crucial for its success.”
Almheiri concluded her address by expressing gratitude to Finland, France, Brazil, and the World Food Programme for establishing the School Meals Coalition. This coalition’s mission is to expedite the enhancement and expansion of school meal programs to ensure that every child receives a nutritious meal at school by 2030.
During the Paris meeting, the UAE received support from countries like Burundi, Egypt, Iraq, Luxembourg, and Tajikistan in their shared commitment to providing free school meals. Launched in 2021 at the UN Food Systems Summit, the School Meals Coalition comprises more than 70 countries and 75 partners, including United Nations agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector, and academia. Together, they work collaboratively to drive actions aimed at reinvigorating, improving, and expanding school meal programs worldwide to ensure that every child, regardless of their location, can enjoy a healthy meal at school by the year 2030.