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Community initiatives feed school children in Kenya

School councils work with local growers and traders to buy food for the World Food Programme’s school feeding program. It also helps develop the local economy.

Canada is supporting the WFP and the Kenyan Ministry of Education to introduce innovative approaches to feeding school children in remote areas of Kenya.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) school meal program in Kenya, as in many African countries, has been well established in communities for decades. Since the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of girls and boys who attend school eat a hot meal at lunch thanks to the WFP and to support from Canada and other countries. Students enjoy a meal of cereals, legumes, fortified salt and vegetable oil—all essential to nourish them, help them grow and enable them to focus on the day’s lessons. In 2009 alone, the WFP provided hot meals for as many as 1.2 million Kenyan primary and preschool children.

The Government of Kenya has always played a crucial role in the program’s success. In 2009, the government launched the Home-Grown School Meals Programme (HGSMP). Through the HGSMP, schools receive funds directly to source food through local growers and traders. This approach helps the government support economic growth in the region through a commitment to agricultural development in local communities. As with other WFP projects, the HGSMP also helps to meet nutrition, health and education goals set for young students. In its first year, the HGSMP provided noon-hour meals to half a million students—all of whom were previously part of the WFP school feeding program. Since then, each year 50,000 more children have received support from the HGSMP, which had reached a total of more than 760,000 students by 2013.

With the success of the HGSMP, the WFP and the Government of Kenya may now focus on developing new approaches to reach the more challenging areas of the country, particularly those located in northern Kenya. In these remote, arid areas, getting children to attend school is a struggle. Schools in these areas have lower enrollment and attendance rates than in the rest of the country, reach more boys than girls, and have some of the lowest literacy rates in the country. Other obstacles to education include conflict and traditions such as child, early and forced marriage.

Innovations in Sustainable School Feeding project

With Canada’s support, the WFP and the Kenyan Ministry of Education developed a new pilot project, modelled after the government’s HGSMP, designed to support these remote areas. The Innovations in Sustainable School Feeding project is being tested in Isiolo County, where there are 98 schools. The project developers were concerned that it could be difficult for schools to buy enough food locally in these dry, remote areas.

One solution to this issue was to develop a business model that involves teachers, parents, education officials and local traders working together to provide meals for the school program. A school-parent committee is provided with cash transfers so it can manage the food purchases. The committee works with local producers and traders to buy the food needed for the program. Training provided as part of the project invests in the different components of the project—from crops in the field, to market and procurement, to cooking the food and delivering it to the students. For example, parents cook and deliver the meals, and a monitoring team oversees the procurement process and ensures that the fiercely competitive contracting process in the new market is conducted fairly. Since August 2013, when the project began, some 38,000 students have been fed at school as part of this program.

The success in northern Kenya of the Innovations in Sustainable School Feeding project will support the continuing transition to the Government of Kenya’s HGSMP model, reaching more and more children whose nutritional status, health and education depend on this meal program. Word has spread about Kenya’s success, and other African countries are interested in implementing this project in their communities. What has been learned through the experience of direct cash transfers in Kenya is shaping how the program will be implemented in other areas.

For Canada, determined to improve maternal, newborn and child health, projects such as this take us one step closer to making sure no child is left behind.

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