PHNOM PENH, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- The 21st Global Child Nutrition Forum kicked off in Siem Reap province in northern Cambodia on Monday, aiming to address challenges in school meal program implementation, said a joint press release.
The five-day event is being hosted by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS), together with the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) and the World Food Program (WFP) Centre of Excellence against Hunger.
The forum brought more than 350 delegates from some 60 countries and regions, the release said, adding that delegates from governments, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, business and research institutions would share insights, successes, and challenges in school meal program implementation.
"The school feeding program has been regarded as one of Cambodian government's priorities as stated in the national education strategic plan (2019-2023)," said Hang Chuon Naron, Cambodian Minister of Education, Youth and Sports.
"Thanks to the long-standing partnership with WFP and many other partners, we are now transitioning our school feeding implementation to fully home-grown, which means school meals will be more nutritious and diverse and, at the same time, smallholder farmers will be supported and local economies boosted," he said.
According to the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, more than 260,000 students at 1,167 primary schools in eight Cambodian provinces have benefited from free school meals so far in the 2018-2019 academic year, with support from the WFP and other development partners.
GCNF's executive director Arlene Mitchell said the forum aims to highlight issues related to child nutrition around the world, foster cooperation between nations, and encourage countries to develop and improve school nutrition programs that return multiple benefits and address multiple Sustainable Development Goals.
"It is also a wonderful opportunity to raise public awareness about nutrition challenges facing children in all countries and to share experience and tools to address those challenges," she said.
WFP assistant executive director Valerie Guarnieri said the forum plays an important role in mobilizing stronger government commitment and pushing school feeding high on national, regional and global agendas.
"Healthy and well-nourished school children learn better. Still, 73 million children go to school hungry and 10 million of them are in Asia," she said.
The forum is hosted in a different country each year, affording participants an opportunity to visit local schools and see one another's school feeding programs in action, said the press release.