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Address by Li Wei,President of DRC,at the Opening Ceremony of Rural Students’ Nutrition Improvement Seminar
on June 1, 2017


Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Good morning.

I am glad to, on the Children’s Day, give a thumb-up to the “Rural Students’ Nutritional Improvement Program” that has been implemented for five years and I would like to take this opportunity to make some suggestions for the healthy growth of children in rural areas. On behalf of the Development Research Center of the State Council, may I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the conference as well as my warm welcome to all the guests both from home and abroad. I wish this conference a complete success.

Children are the hope of a nation and the future of a country. Their nutritional and health conditions are directly related to a country’s population quality, development level and international competitiveness. Nutrition is important to children’s healthy growth. Relevant studies show that malnutrition will bring irreversible and irreparable harm to children both for now and in the future. In the international community, children’s nutritional conditions are usually prioritized as a key index to measure a country’s economic and social development. The Copenhagen Consensus has ranked those major issues relevant to world development in a descending order, putting enhancing children’s nutrition and easing poverty on top agenda. In 2015, the issue of “exterminating malnutrition in all forms” was incorporated into UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, for which the whole world is going to make joint efforts. The main developed countries and all developing countries in the world have all paid attention to students’ nutrition status. Since the middle of last century, the U.S., France, Japan and some other developed countries have established relatively sound school meal programs in succession. And India, Brazil and some other developing countries have also launched primary school nutrition support programs since the 1990s.

After the founding of new China, especially after reform and opening-up, we have made remarkable progress in economic and social development programs. However, China is still a developing country and malnutrition for students still exists in poor areas. This issue has not only inflicted a negative impact on teenagers’ healthy growth, but also undermined the enhancement of education. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the work of nutrition improvement for primary and middle school students, especially the rural students in poor areas. Leading members of the central government have made several instructions on the enhancement of children’s health and the government accordingly launched the nutrition improvement program for rural students in poor areas in 2011. In the past five years the program has been implemented earnestly by the Ministry of Education, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Finance and relevant central and local government departments and this program has achieved remarkable results. Since 2011, the central finance has allocated 159.1 billion yuan to implement the nutrition improvement program, bringing benefits to 33 million students nationwide. Among them, 23 million students receiving compulsory education from 699 counties in contiguous and concentrated poor areas have obtained subsidies earmarked by the central finance.

The implementation of nutritional improvement program has effectively ensured the basic nutritional needs of students in poor areas. The monitoring results collected by “Sunshine School Meal Data Platform” backed by China Development Research Foundation show that 52 percent of schools’ meals containing energy, protein, fat and two kinds of micro-elements have met the national recommended standards. On September 22, 2016, I visited a primary school in Miaoai Township, Songtao County, Guizhou province, and had a nutritional lunch with the children there. The lunch included a meat dish, a vegetable dish and soup. The children enjoyed the meal and so did I. These children in poor areas could only take “soybeans soaked in soy sauce” in the past, but now they have hot rice coupled with meat and vegetables. I really feel happy for them. Certainly, I paid for the lunch myself.

The nutritional improvement program has made the students become physically stronger. The monitoring results of 1.92 million students from 62 counties under the program show that from 2012 to 2016, the heights of newly-enrolled students at 7 years old had no big difference, but with the implementation of the nutritional program, students of various age groups saw their average height increasing. Take 11-year-old boy and girl students as an example. Their height grew respectively from 137.8 cm and 138.7 cm in 2012 to 143.5 cm and 144.3 cm in 2016, up by 5.7 cm and 5.6 cm respectively during the four years. Important changes are taking place in the malnutrition and growth retardation of students in poor areas. And enhanced nutrition has laid a sound health foundation for students to get better study results so as to acquire relevant technical know-how in the future. In 2012, the joint supervision group consisting of the World Bank, the World Food Program, and Child Development Partners held that “China’s nutritional improvement program for rural students receiving compulsory education is a great program, with a wide coverage and efficient implementation, which is rarely seen before.”

Good policies will generate good outcomes whereas good outcomes are inseparable from adequate implementation, supervision and evaluation. In 2015, the National Nutrition Office attached to China’s Ministry of Education entrusted China Development Research Foundation with the mission of conducting the program of “Sunshine School Meal Data Platform”, which marks a crucial step in making pilot and innovative practice in the supervision and evaluation of national social security policies. This platform collects data through the App on mobile phones in campus and utilizes cloud technology to store, calculate and evaluate collected data, which are featured by innovative digitalization, standardization, visualization, traceability and wide coverage. This platform has thus achieved precise supervision and given relevant guidance. The collected data will be analyzed in this platform and targeted evaluation results will be submitted to the county authorities and the schools as direct feedbacks and reported to relevant departments in the local governments. According to the weak points reflected by the feedback, the county authorities and schools will then make adjustments and reforms for improvement. Progress about implementation will be released on the data platform to the public and put under public oversight. Now the data platform is put in place for trial implementation in nearly 10,000 schools of 100 counties in 13 provinces, with a coverage of 4 million children, showing a sound performance across the board. The data platform is the first of its kind in the world for supervision, guidance and regulation relating to the provision of school meals. I hope that all participants present here at this conference will show their kind concern to the “Sunshine School Meal Data Platform” and make joint efforts with us to supervise and promote its development.

Ladies, gentlemen and friends, the students’ nutrition improvement program has made great progress in the past five years since its implementation, but we still have to work hard so as to live up to the expectations of the central leadership. In 2016, the Chinese government passed the “Healthy China 2030 Program”, and President Xi Jinping pointed out that “without national health, there would be no overall well-off society”. It can be said that improving the nutritional improvement program remains a daunting task, and we have to make hard efforts to enhance the quality of school meals. The monitoring results show that the malnutrition rate of students of various counties had dropped from 18.5 percent in 2012 to 15.4 percent in 2016, but still standing higher than 12 percent, the average malnutrition rate for children between 6 and 15 years old nationwide recorded in 2012. 15-year-old boys and girls in poor areas in 2012 were respectively 5.2 cm and 4.7 cm shorter compared with children at the same age nationwide. This gap was evidently reduced in 2016, but still registering a difference of 3.7m and 3.6cm respectively. There are also some prominent problems remaining to be addressed. For instance, nearly half of the schools providing school meals have not reached the basic standards; some local officials are not fully aware of the significance of students’ nutrition improvement, overemphasizing the difficulty for the implementation of the program; and certain schools in Gansu, Hubei and Hunan provinces are still adopting the method of providing meals between classes. We think that some issues can be addressed later except issues about children. Therefore, the above-mentioned problems are in dire need of solutions.

The critical benchmark indicating the realization of a well-off society lies in the improvement of farmers’ lives. Implementing the students’ nutrition program, making rural school kids in poor areas have food to eat, and increasing students’ health level are substantial benefits brought about by the Party and the government through adhering to the principle of putting people first and government for the people. In 2017, the students’ nutrition improvement program will cover all poor counties in China, so that more poor areas and households can get benefits from it. There are only three years left before completing the anti-poverty mission by 2020. During this key period, we need to focus our work on the following issues.

First, we need to take children’ nutritional improvement program as a national strategy, incorporate it into the national economic and social development plan and the poverty alleviation and development strategy, improve relevant supporting systems and policy measures, and keep replenishing the funding in this regard.

Second, we need to mobilize various forces and make joint efforts in pushing ahead with the program. The students’ nutritional program is a systematic project relating to production, marketing and consumption and concerning students’ nutrition and health. This policy-linked program covers extensive areas receiving high public concern. It is necessary for various social sectors to highlight this program and bring into play respective advantages with a well-coordinated approach so as to advance this program to a new high.

Third, we need to be more aware of the importance in realizing meal supply in cafeteria across the board and strengthen the quality control. Governments at all levels need to further flesh out their understanding of this task so as to give a proper guidance to the students’ nutritional improvement program. The central finance needs to ensure that meal subsidy standards could be kept on a par with the agricultural products’ price changes. And the provincial and municipal governments need to cover part of the cafeteria operation funds and labor costs. The performance about the nutritional improvement program’s outcomes and the benefits to poor households needs to be placed under the overall arrangement and examination work in poverty alleviation and development.

Fourth, we need to intensify supervision and examination so as to make the students’ nutritional program a “sunshine project”. The “Sunshine School Meal Data Platform” needs to be fully utilized and the monitoring scope needs to be enlarged to cover all the counties under the program. Each school needs 100 yuan to collect and report relevant data. China Development Research Foundation raises 11 million yuan each year for supervising nearly 10,000 schools in 100 counties. If the future supervision extends to nearly 91,400 schools in 699 counties in the contiguous and concentrated poor areas, the total cost will stand at 100 million yuan. This is included in the 19 billion yuan earmarked by central finance for the enhancement of appropriate meals in different localities and schools. We hope that relevant departments in the central government could ensure operation of the platform by purchasing services, and China Development Research Foundation will continue to absorb private funds to offer relevant support.

Finally, we need to strengthen international exchanges and cooperation. While focusing on the domestic children’s work, China, as a responsible big power, will take an active part in global and regional events for international cooperation and exchanges concerning children’s survival, protection and development. In September 2015, President Xi Jinping proposed in his speech made at the UN headquarters to establish a “China International Development Knowledge Center” for research on and exchanges of with other countries the development theories and practice suitable for respective national conditions. Now this Center has been established and will soon start performing its duties. Currently, over 100 countries have implemented the school meal plans. In order to improve our work, it is necessary for us to enhance international exchanges, and we would be glad to share our experience with other countries, so that children in other developing countries can shake off malnutrition as soon as possible and grow up healthily.

“Nothing in the world is difficult for one who sets his mind to it”. We are convinced that with the proactive endeavor by governments of all levels and the strong support by various social circles in China, the rural students’ nutritional improvement program will become more and more complete and regulated, and more and more children can enjoy a nutritional and healthy lunch and embrace a beautiful and bright future!

Thank you.

Note: Li Wei, President of DRC, Deputy Secretary of the Leading Party Members’ Group and research fellow