School Meals Remain Indispensable in Kenya

The World Food Programme and the Government of Kenya continue to provide schools meals across the arid and semi-arid areas and in the poor informal settlements of Nairobi. The national home-grown school meals programme in Kenya is now reaching more than one million school-going children in Kenya, while WFP complements efforts in hard-to-reach areas, feeding an additional half a million.

The World Food Programme in partnership with the Government of Kenya has provided hot lunches to school-going children in Kenya since the 1980s.

Together, WFP and the Government provide meals to 1.5 million children, every school day, with more than 1 million children benefitting from the government-led programme.

Initially, WFP solely provided the support for this programme with donor funds. But a more sustainable model needed to be in place. The transition of school meals to Government ownership started in 2009, with the launch of a national home-grown meals programme, a model which allows the Government to transfer cash to schools instead of in-kind food deliveries.

Video: Home-grown school meals in Kenya

This model was successfully implemented in the marginal agricultural areas. Here, markets are well developed and schools can readily access food commodities.

Transitional cash transfers to schools

To help prepare schools in arid areas to integrate into the national home-grown meals programme, WFP has introduced ‘transitional cash transfers to schools’ in each county for one year before they are handed over to the government.  An intensive package of support to schools, parents, teachers and government officials ensures the new cash-based model is understood and operational. This includes training on transparent tendering, evaluating of bids, record keeping, and proper food storage, hygiene and quality control.

Isiolo, Samburu and Tana River counties have all successfully transitioned from WFP-support to the national programme since 2013. Turkana is in the process: 113 primary schools (teaching 30,000 pupils) in Turkana North, Turkana West and Kibish sub-counties of Turkana are already receiving cash to purchase food locally, instead of having the food delivered each term. Marsabit County is the next to move to the cash-based model in May, when schools open for term 2.

Lokwanya primary school, 25 kilometres west of Kakuma in Turkana County started receiving assistance through the WFP school meals programme six years ago. In the final school term of 2016 (September-November), the cash transfer model was introduced.

“We now sit together and decide on the type and amount of food to buy; we advertise and award the tender, and when the food is delivered, we check to confirm that it meets the standards. If it is damaged, we send it back to the supplier,” said Vincent Lochol Edome, a parent at Lokwanya school.

Strong ownership

Transitional cash transfers mirror the home-grown school meals model. The aim is to provide a meal to children at school which supports education achievements while also stimulating local agricultural production through purchase of food from smallholder farmers and local food suppliers.

“The community is very interested in the school meals programme because they are involved at all levels. They own the process,” said Samuel Ipaso, the Chief Education Officer for Turkana North.

With cash transfers there are added economic benefits.

“The schools are now buying food directly from the local farmers, and this will promote the economy and promote the agricultural sector,” said Leah Rotich, the Director General in the Ministry of Education, speaking while officiating a handover ceremony in Samburu County.

“School meals help curb malnutrition among school-going children and the home-grown model is going further and contributing to better food security in the counties,” she added.

Important safety net  

School meals protect vulnerable children from hunger and offer a regular source of nutrients essential for the mental and physical development of young children. A full stomach gives children an opportunity to focus on learning at school.

 “The school lunch gives us strength. When we are strong, we are able to learn,” said Francis Kachoda, a 13-year-old class-5 pupil at Lokwanya primary school. “When I grow up, I want to become the president of Kenya.”

A daily school meal provides a strong incentive for families to send their children to school and keep them there. It helps to increase school enrolment and attendance, decrease drop-out rates, and it also improves cognitive abilities. 

Over the years, school meals have helped a countless number of Kenyans get an education and make a good life for themselves. This safety net is indispensable.