FAQs on Food Insecurity and Education: Understanding How They Affect Each Other

Across the globe, food insecurity is rampant as food prices rise—but at what cost? Global evidence suggests that food inflation and insecurity have a detrimental impact on education. But how, exactly? What do the numbers reveal? What does this mean for Rwanda, where Wellspring works? Learn more about how food insecurity and education affect each other.

  1. What does the data say about food insecurity?
  2. How is food insecurity affecting Rwanda?
  3. What impact does food insecurity have on education?
  4. How is The Government of Rwanda addressing food insecurity?
  5. How is Wellspring addressing food insecurity?
  6. How are parents addressing food insecurity?
  7. What is the way forward?

What Does the Data Say about Food Insecurity?

To put it simply, we are facing a global food crisis.

With global violence and the Ukraine war, the worsening climate crisis destroying crops and livelihoods, the increase in fertilizer prices, rising oil prices, and the steady increase in food costs, there are many factors at play that are affecting food availability and accessibility.

And while many of us in North America have felt the impact of bigger bills at the supermarkets, this crisis is hitting the Majority World in unprecedented ways, in unprecedented proportions. These “hunger hotspots” span all the way from Central America, through the middle of Africa, eastward to Syria, Yemen, all the way to Afghanistan, due to conflict and climate shocks that are driving millions to the brink of starvation.

In fact, according to the World Food Programme, it is estimated that 345.2 million people will experience food insecurity in 2023—more than double the number in 2020. Currently, 828 million people are unsure of when they will next eat a meal.

How Is Food Insecurity Affecting Rwanda?

Nestled into East Africa’s lush greenery and hilly landscape, the small, landlocked country of Rwanda faces these same challenges. With food prices skyrocketing (59.2% annual year-to-year inflation), many homes—already struggling for their livelihood—continue to be hit hard.

Rwanda’s latest household data shows that low-income households typically spend more than a third of their overall budget on food. Because the cost of staple items has risen drastically, these homes are vulnerable to malnutrition and hunger.

While increasing food prices and insecurity have harmful impacts on health and nutrition, another major concern is how food inflation will adversely impact education outcomes, both at the household and government levels.

What Impact does Food Insecurity Have on Education?

For low-income households, higher spending on food hinders their ability to support their children’s education—whether through tuition fees, uniforms, school materials, or contributions to school meals. In many situations, children continue to work in fields rather than learn in the classroom, parents work longer hours and are unable to support their children’s learning, and parental stress negatively impacts children’s well-being and ability to learn.

Globally, as food prices rise, government expenditures on education tend to decrease—impacting the long-term access to, and quality of education. This means less investment on school maintenance and improvement, or on recruiting and hiring new teachers. In the short-term in Rwanda, the government’s school feeding program is negatively impacted, meaning that children are less likely to receive a sufficient and nutritious meal at school to help fuel their learning.

How is The Government of Rwanda Addressing Food Insecurity?

Since 2019, the Government of Rwanda has prioritized School Feeding Programs as a multi-faceted strategy for poverty alleviation, investment in education, and economic development. The School Feeding Policy and Strategic Plan highlights six areas for action, ranging from ensuring health and nutrition for more children, to creating local, multi-sectoral partnerships to sustain the program. Its overall goal is to ensure that “all school children in Rwanda shall achieve their full development potential through a sustainable school feeding programme that provides adequate and nutritious meals at school”. Not only does this build into their overall health and well-being, but School Feeding provides an incentive for children to remain in school, and improves their concentration, learning, cognitive functions, in-class behaviour and academic performance. Because who can learn on an empty stomach?

How is Wellspring Addressing Food Insecurity?

While the challenge may seem overwhelming, there are glimmers of hope and incredible initiatives being taken in Rwandan schools, by Rwandan communities, to support the government’s efforts to combat the plight of food insecurity.

The Wellspring Foundation for Education works in partnership with local schools to support their efforts to transform education from the inside out, all to ensure every child has access to the inclusive, quality education they deserve – and that includes addressing hunger that would prevent a child from being able to focus in the classroom. We have spent almost 20 years in Rwanda advocating for systemic change at the highest levels of leadership and government, and providing grassroots training and mentoring to school leaders, teachers, and parents.

Our partnership with parents helps them understand and live out their unique role in supporting their children’s education. One key piece is our module on Asset-Based Community Development—a framework that identifies a community’s assets and strengths, connects them to areas of need in the local school community, and mobilizes them for sustainable change and self-empowerment. This means that parents can work together to share what they have to address challenges like hunger.

How are Parents Addressing Food Insecurity?

Parents are seeing the value and importance of investing in their child’s education, and specifically contributing to the School Feeding Program! Parents are sharing their time, money, and resources with the school, and are even visiting other parents who don’t pay for their child’s school feeding to help them understand the importance of children eating at school. These parents know that without proper nutrition at school, their well-being and ability to meet their learning potential are at risk. Hear some stories of their dedication:

The training that we had with Wellspring on Asset Based Community Development – ABCD a while back helped our school to think outside the box. Instead of renting our school land to create income for the operations of our school activities and remain hungry without food, we instead started using our school land to grow vegetables, potatoes, maize, so that our teachers and children can get a meal at lunch time every day at school. The teachers are now having lunch together at school as a result of using the available resources around our school.” – Head Teacher Celestine, Musabike

We live close to the school. When the school feeding started I didn’t support it because my daughter could drop at home to take her lunch. But sometimes she could not find food at home when her mother was not at home. One day I found her crying. When I asked why, she said that she didn’t find food; she even added that she won’t return to school until I pay for her school feeding. I was challenged that day and I told her that I will pay for her. Since when I paid she applied at school so that her performance improved. I was myself happy for her and from that day I committed to be part of community mobilizers for school feeding.” – Father of a child from EP Musabike

Parents at E.P. Buhanga still remember ABCD concepts and approaches. They understand that they have assets that can contribute to the school’s progress. For instance they pay for school feeding in kind; they bring beans, vegetables, and cooking wood….They also understand the importance of being community connectors and involved in mobilizing parents for school feeding by visiting parents in their homes [to share with them the importance of school feeding programs].” – Wellspring Trainers sharing about the EP Buhanga parent community

What is the Way Forward?

Even despite these efforts, families across Rwanda continue to grapple with rising food costs, and school communities struggle to provide sufficient and nutritious meals to their students.

Many families Wellspring partners with face extreme poverty and cannot keep up with the rising prices of food staples. These vulnerable families are unable to feed their children at home, let alone provide the fees needed to feed their children at school. Other parents are yet to see the value of School Feeding Programs, and delay or skip payments. And with the prices of food constantly changing, families who can contribute may lack the margin to provide constant financial support or food donations.

Some schools lack a garden, running water, a school kitchen, or a dining hall for teachers and students to share a meal in. And even if schools do have a garden used to grow fruits and vegetables, these are often not enough and, therefore, well-balanced, nutritious meals are not always guaranteed if funds from parents or the government are lacking.

It is clear that food insecurity is a multifaceted issue that requires global attention from all sectors. But as food insecurity continues to impact Rwanda, we remain dedicated to continuing our work in Rwanda to influence perspective, invite parents into action, and support schools both in their provision of the best education possible, and of a healthy, nourishing meal to fuel children’s learning.