In Kenya’s Arid Lands, WFP Hands Over School Meals To The Government

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© WFP/Amanda Lawrence-Brown

The World Food Programme and the Government of Kenya are providing school meals to 1.5 million children every school day. These are children drawn from some of the most food insecure places - arid or semi-arid lands, and the informal settlements around Nairobi. WFP is gradually handing over its school meals programmes to the national home-grown school meals initiative, writes WFP's Martin Karimi.

The World Food Programme has handed over the school meals programme in Samburu County to the Kenyan national home-grown school meals programme, after a carefully planned transition.

Starting in January 2016, the government has taken on the role of providing school meals in 146 schools across Samburu County. This follows a year of ‘transitional’ cash transfers, aimed at preparing the county and the schools for the handover.

WFP started providing cash to schools in Samburu instead of in-kind food at the beginning of 2015, to test the strength of the markets and allow the schools to buy food locally.

The transition and handover are all part of a joint strategy in Kenya, where WFP has been supporting school meals since 1980. Over the course of several years, WFP is gradually handing over the programmes to the national home-grown school meals programme, as both WFP and the government work with county and local authorities throughout Kenya to develop their abilities to provide school meals sustainably in the long term.

Cash transfers increase transparency

“With cash transfers, we are getting food in a timely manner,” said 37-year old Josephine Lemeruni, a parent of a student at Lorubae primary school in Archers Post, a village in Samburu East. “I check to ensure that the food we buy is of good quality and the right quantity.”

Josephine has two children and also works as a cook in the school. Parents are heavily involved in making decisions. The transitional cash transfers are meant to mirror the government’s home-grown school meals programme, which is cash-based and managed by the school community.

“We are in charge of buying the food, and the process is open to scrutiny by parents, teachers, and local authorities,” said Alois Leariwala.

Alois sits on the school meals procurement committee as a representative of the parents, and it is his duty to ensure that the procurement rules are followed. He says that the school meals programme is now more transparent because the whole school community is involved.

Improved attendance and performance

James Leitore is a pupil at Lorubae primary school.

“As a moran (a Samburu warrior), the school lunch is the only meal I eat for the day. Traditionally, we are not allowed to eat at home,” he said.

“The food helps us get an education. At my age, I would probably have dropped out of school.”

Instead, he is in a classroom, working hard at his studies.

James likes the githeri(a mix of maize and beans) and he is aware that the school is now receiving cash rather than in-kind food.

Learning has also improved. Pupils are able to attend classes every school day thus completing the syllabus on time.

“We start classes as soon as the schools reopen because we get the food in time,” said Stephen Mwaine, a teacher in the school. “Overall, the pupils are healthy and their performance has improved. The meals help especially the morans to stay in school, in turn preventing early marriages,” he said.

Boosting local trade

Daniel Letoiye is a trader in Archers Post. In the first school term of 2015, he supplied three schools with maize, beans, vegetable oil, and iodized salt.

“I applied for the publicly advertised tender and won. The schools paid within a month of delivery. This is a big boost to my business.”

WFP is planning to introduce transitional cash transfers to schools in Tana River County in preparation for the handover to the home-grown school meals programme in 2017. Other arid counties will follow.

In the interest of a smooth transition and sustainability of the programme, WFP is working with the government to see that sufficient funds are transferred to schools, and in good time, in order for the community to continue reaping the maximum benefits of the home-grown school meals.

Story by WFP/Martin Karimi