By Franz Chávez
“We are asking for a fruit Wednesday!” The students in a classroom at the La Paz Educational Unit shouted in chorus when IPS asked for their suggestions to improve the snacks they receive within the national program of Complementary School Feeding (ACE). A demand for healthy food unthinkable a few years ago.
The ACE model was a school breakfast that began in 2000 in this city, the seat of the Bolivian government, and which evolved into an innovative diet of natural, indigenous and highly nutritious foods for children and adolescents studying in the public centers of the main municipality of the 327 that the country has.
The World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other international institutions have applauded the results in various reports.
"We are leaders in preparing school rations with Andean foods such as amaranth, broad bean flour and quinoa (quinoa)," the director of Education of the municipal autonomous government, Jorge Gómez, enthusiastically told IPS in the austere office since the one that coordinates the plan for students aged five to 15 in public centers.
The amaranth and quinoa cereals were the food base of the pre-Columbian cultures of the Andean areas of South America and are highly proteinic.
Among the positive results, it stands out that in the first eight years of the implementation of the Andean diet in the municipality, anemia fell by 30 percent among students, according to independent studies by the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés and the international organization Save the Children .
The ACE was established in the state primary and secondary education system throughout the country in 2005, is managed by special municipal units and in 2013 it benefited two million students, according to the Ministry of Education, responsible for the program.
The La Paz initiative not only improved the eating habits of the students, but also promoted small community agriculture.
Its principles germinated in the Law of School Feeding in the Framework of Food Sovereignty and Plural Economy, promulgated on the last day of 2014, which will begin to apply from this year and that prohibits transgenic and industrial foods, to replace them with their own Andean culture and produced largely locally.
The La Paz model
Gómez explained that he dialogues with parents to improve the menu and include a variety of products in the rations distributed in the 389 educational units in La Paz dependent on the central and municipal governments, in the morning, afternoon and evening shifts.
In its 2,000 square kilometers, La Paz has 764,617 of the 10 million inhabitants of Bolivia. Of the total, 293,000 residents in the municipality are poor, with incomes that do not reach $ 90 per month, according to 2013 data from the Municipal Research Directorate.
While consuming colorful sachets with cereals and natural juices, the students from the educational unit who visited IPS comment that among their favorites are the cereal sticks covered with chocolate.
This food, produced with cocoa from the semitropical zone of the northeastern department of La Paz, is very popular and the day they join the diet there are no rations, because some students eat several portions, the director of the educational unit, Marcela Fernández, told IPS. .
The school menu provides a quarter of the daily nutrients that a child or adolescent needs, and includes milk, yogurt, fruit juices and chocolate, to which are added iron, folic acid and vitamins A, B and C.
For families, it also represents savings. "It helps the family economy a lot," Fernando Aliaga, president of the La Paz Educational Unit School Board, told IPS. The sports teacher, Hugo Quito, said that students have more energy when exercising, due to a healthy diet.
The solid rations are the result of a creative handling of foods with an Andean aroma, such as cornbreads and other native cereals, soft and baked doughs and combined with eggs, oats, almonds, and a quinoa kneaded bread, called "k 'ispiña'.
This product recovers a tradition of ancient Andean peoples where it was used as a non-perishable food, suitable for long distance walkers and periods of food shortage.
Each combination was created by municipal nutritionists, who are encouraged by the reduction of anemia in students, although the road is not always easy. One example was a chard-filled patty, which a group of parents rejected because they mistook the vegetable for mold.
The explosion in demand for natural foods that the program caused also had a positive collateral impact: a productive revolution was generated for Andean cereals, plantains (bananas) and fruits, which are now grown in an organized manner by farmers grouped in companies and cooperatives.
Every day, from dawn to dusk, about 26 tons of solid and liquid food are distributed, with production centers located in the middle of the highlands, more than 4,000 meters above sea level, or in the valleys and tropical areas from the department of La Paz, which increased both employment and business.
The positive impacts on the health of schoolchildren and on the recovery of Andean and natural foods, together with the revitalization of community agriculture, served as a guide for the national law, when drawing up the new ACE guidelines, for the food distributed in public, primary and secondary education.
The new norm also converges with the objectives of the government of President Evo Morales, in power since 2006, which promotes the integral development of Vivir Bien, as an axis of its social policy.
The standard sets out as objectives the support of schoolchildren, to encourage their permanence in the classrooms, to promote production for school meals, with preference for products from each locality, to ensure that they are natural and close to each culture, and to promote the community social agriculture.
Meanwhile, the La Paz School Complementary Feeding Unit has already entered another pioneering phase, that of training leaders in nutrition with the participation of teachers, parents, and schoolchildren to whom they give caps and uniforms after a training cycle. .
These leaders will generate awareness in their schools and among the community about good eating habits, prevention in health and nutrition issues. "It's about the drive for change from the family to the school," a technician in charge of the program quoted IPS as saying, asking not to give his name.