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Serving nutritious, home-grown school meals to improve nutrition and empower students to learn in rural primary schools in Mozambique.

Mozambique School Lunch Initiative

location_on Chokwe, Mozambique
The Mozambique School Lunch Initiative (MSLI) builds home-grown school lunch programs in Mozambique to ensure that no child has to learn on an empty stomach. MSLI partners with rural primary schools, where malnutrition and school dropouts are highest. For these children, having a meal at school is a strong incentive to attend and enables them to focus and learn more in the classroom.
Feeding the future.

Cara Myers, co-founder, executive director


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Key figures

Innovation Overview

4 - 18
Age Group
1 200
Updated on April 13th, 2021
about the innovation

What is Mozambique School Lunch Initiative?

What we do?

Simply put, the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative serves nutritious meals to hungry kids to help them grow and learn in school. To do so, we build home-grown school lunch programs in rural, typically impoverished communities in Mozambique. “Home-grown” means that we source food locally, stimulating agricultural production and benefiting smallholder farmers. It also means that our school meals our based on nutritious, fresh ingredients, including chicken, beans, peanuts and vegetables, designed to increase, on average, a child’s nutrient consumption by 50 to 100 percent, especially for key nutrients like protein, fat and essential vitamins and minerals. Food keeps kids coming to school and facilitates learning. School meals also help close the nutrient gap that can lead to long-term repercussions for a child’s development.

The shortcomings in child nutrition and school performance are often most severe in rural areas, where it is most logistically challenging and costly to implement a top-down school meals program. For this reason, our decentralized model leverages the local community – cooks, teachers, farmers, parents – to ensure the effective delivery of the daily school lunch program. Since we began over three years ago, our school lunch program has not missed a single school day.

We have also realized that the school lunch program is an excellent vehicle to deliver other low-cost complimentary interventions, such as deworming and hand-washing, that often do not reach rural school children due to logistical obstacles. By integrating these interventions, we are working to remove the obstacles that prevent children from attending school regularly and growing to their potential.

Why we do it?

As stated by Justin Sandefur and Divyanshi Wadhwa of the Center for Global Development, "Schools are full of hungry kids who aren't learning anything. Why don't we feed them?"

In Mozambique, almost half of children are chronically malnourished. When children grow up hungry, not only does this take a physical toll, it also affects their ability to participate in school. In Mozambique, there are approximately 6 million primary school aged children (UNESCO). Of these, one-third of children age 6 years (the compulsory official entry age) are not enrolled in school, especially those from food insecure families (World Bank). Only 63 percent of children in the 5-14 age range attend school regularly (World Bank). On average, stunted children complete 4.7 fewer years of school than children with normal growth (World Food Program). By fifth grade, over half of Mozambican students have already dropped out and only 11 percent make the transition to secondary school (USAID). The connection with hunger is clear. Stunted children are more likely to drop out of school and it is estimated that only 12 percent of stunted Mozambican adults completed primary school, compared to 84 percent of those with adequate nutrition (World Food Program).

Furthermore, the ability to go to school and learn is also strongly correlated with household-level factors in Mozambique. Children in households below the poverty line are 30 percent less likely to attend school as compared to children in households above the poverty line. Similarly, children living in rural areas of Mozambique are 48 percent less likely to attend school than children living in urban areas (World Bank). Poverty also exacerbates gender inequalities—for children from the poorest families, only 39 percent of girls (compared to 52 percent of boys) attend school (UNICEF). When these disparities are not addressed, children do not access the education they need to pursue a better future and inter-generational poverty persists.

Despite the compelling need for school lunch programs in Mozambique, they currently reach only 3 percent of primary schools (World Food Program). By developing a decentralized model that is effective in rural areas, the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative is working to close that gap. Additionally, traditional programs often rely on imported corn and soy, forgoing any possible benefit to local farmers (who consist of 70 percent of the population). By not incorporating agricultural production, these traditional models fail to address the root causes that create food insecurity among rural households and chronic malnutrition among children.

For this reason, the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative emphasizes local procurement and actively partners with farmer groups in the communities around the schools we serve. We facilitate access to improved inputs, like tractor services, improved seeds and small-scale irrigation equipment, and training, helping boost the farmers’ production. In addition to the benefits for local farmers, procuring locally also reduces the costs of the school lunch program, making it more sustainable. In this way, we aim to provide a model for more impactful and sustainable school lunch programs – helping more children get the nutrition they need to stay and school and learn.


See this innovation in action

MSLI's COVID-19 Response
Since March 23, 2020, all schools in Mozambique have been closed due to COVID-19. To keep kids from going hungry at home, MSLI has been providing monthly take-home rations to students at the schools. Each month, the student receives a food basket of fortified maize meal, beans, and vegetables to cook at home. For vulnerable kids, this has been critical to ensure they still have enough to eat during this crisis.
Overseeing the school meals programs
Talvina is co-founder of the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative and serves as Program Supervisor, ensuring that all of the schools are running smoothly, managing procurement, overseeing the cooks and the nutrition of the meals. She visits each school three times a week and makes sure they have the adequate food supplies and that each child is getting the right portion. Recently, she just completed a Nutritional Survey with a random sample of children at each school to assess what the children are eating at home. In this way, we are able to tailor our school lunch menu to meet the biggest gaps in nutrition. Her deep love for children is evident in the care she shows for each child in the program, making sure they have enough to eat and are studying in school. Thanks to Talvina, the school lunch program has operated continuously and has become something students can count on.
Our cornerstones - the cooks
At each school, two cooks are hired from the local community to prepare and serve the school lunches each day. These women are the key to the successful implementation of our program and are extremely dedicated to their work. They show up at 6 in the morning to start a fire for boiling water, start chopping vegetables, de-feathering chickens, and ensuring that by 12 o'clock sharp, lunch is ready for hundreds of children.
In the shade of a tree
For some of our students, the classroom is simply the chalkboard under the tree. These children come from rural families, often walking great distances to school each day. During the lean season, hunger can take a big toll on attendance and children stop showing up to school. But with the school lunch program, students are more motivated to go to school and know they can count on a hearty meal. Good nutrition promotes cognitive development and helps them learn more in school. And just as important, the school lunch program is something these children can count on, no matter what else is going on in their lives. That matters.
The team
The Mozambique School Lunch Initiative was founded by Roberto Mutisse (far left), Cara Myers (center left), and Talvina Ualane (far right), who first met while all working for Samaritan's Purse in Guija, Mozambique in 2013. When the 2015/2016 drought hit Mozambique, the three of us decided to do something to keep kids from dropping out of school due to hunger. A year later, Jaime Chichango joined our team to lead the "Seed Support" program to help local farmers increase their production so they could become suppliers for the school lunch program's procurement needs. Together, the four of us keep the whole operation running, serving over 1,000 students everyday, coordinating with 10 cooks and over 40 farmers and other suppliers.When people ask what makes the organization work, I always point to the amazing team, the commitment of each member, and our shared passion for bettering the lives and opportunities of Mozambican children and communities. We each have different skills, from financial accounting, to agronomy, to economics and management skills. We speak Xangana, Portuguese and English. And we come from the United States and Mozambique. These differences allow us to bridge multiple worlds and direct more resources to where they are needed most.
A healthy harvest
To support the development of local agriculture, the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative partners with farmer groups in the community around the schools where we work, facilitating investment in improved inputs and creating a reliable market for their surplus production. In this photo, women from Duvane village are harvesting beans, a portion of which they will use to feed their families and the rest they will sell to the Duvane school's lunch program.
Lunches for learning
Teachers report that the school meals not only keep kids coming to class on time, they also help students focus and pay attention in class. Most students don't eat anything in the morning before coming to school, so the school meal makes a big difference in helping them learn.
Helping girls stay in school
Students at Candiza Primary School in Chokwe District, Mozambique. School lunches help keep students attending school regularly, especially girls, who are often the first in their families to miss school in order to care for other siblings, perform household duties, or have premature marriages. At schools served by the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative, girls attend just as regularly as boys, getting the chance to learn on a full belly.
Check out the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative's website!


Achievements & Awards

March 2020
MSLI begins COVID-19 response
June 2019
Innovation page created on
May 2019
Over half a million (500,000) school meals served to date by the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative
August 2018
Co-founder Roberto Mutisse is selected for the Moonshot House incubator run by Echoing Green alumni
May 2018
The Mozambique School Lunch Initiative wins the Harvard President's Innovation Challenge Crowd Award
October 2017
Mozambique School Lunch Initiative partners with District Health Services to provide deworming
September 2017
Co-founder Cara Myers receives the New World Social Enterprise Fellowship at Harvard
August 2017
Mozambique School Lunch Initiative adds its fifth school, Bombôfo Primary, adding 500 more students
June 2017
The Mozambique School Lunch Initiative wins the D-Prize
May 2017
Mozambique School Lunch Initiative receives grant from Weiss Family Fund for Development Economics
March 2017
Mozambique School Lunch Initiative launches the "Seed Support" program to procure from local farmers
May 2016
The Mozambique School Lunch Initiative served its first school meal

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