Kenya: School meals are more important than ever

In the face of a severe drought, it’s the only daily meal for many children

Asna (left) is one of 1.6 million children who receive school meals in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid regions. Photo: WFP/Martin Karimi

By Martin Karimi

Asna wants to become a doctor so that she can save people’s lives. The 14-year-old is a student at Kilimani primary school in Isiolo in northern Kenya where the mainly pastoralist communities are suffering from the impact of a severe drought.

Isiolo is one of the worst affected areas with livestock deaths rising and where herders roam in search of water and pasture for their surviving animals. This takes them further away from essential services such as schools for their children.

“There is no grass for the goats, and I spend the whole day out in the bush with animals foraging, but their body condition is not improving,” says Asna’s mother Asha — a livestock trader who buys, fattens, and sells livestock.

I’m making as little as 150 shillings (US$1.40 cents) in profit per goat. It is nothing.”

Three consecutive failed rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa has left 3.1 million hungry in Kenya and 13 million people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance across the region.

“When faced with severe drought, parents can resort to desperate acts to survive, including giving out their daughters to older and richer men in exchange for animals,” says Doris Muriungi, the headteacher at Kilimani primary school.

Providing school meals increases enrollment and attendance especially among girls — reducing the chances of early marriage, child labour and teen pregnancies.

Providing school meals increases enrollment and attendance especially among girls. Photos: WFP/Martin Karimi

“It is essential to have food in schools especially for girls from pastoralist families,” says Sofia Abdul Mohamud, the Sub-County Education Director for Isiolo. “Lunch keeps children in school which keeps them safe.”

The importance of school meals is not lost on Asna:

“When we go home for lunch, we often don’t find our parents because they are pastoralists,” says Asna. “If we are loitering in the village looking for food, we are exposed to dangers such as drugs, rape and early pregnancies.”

In Kenya, the Government is the leader in providing meals to school children in the food insecure areas. The World Food Programme (WFP) handed over management of the school feeding programme in 2018 and continues to provide technical support to the national and county governments.

“When my children get food in school, it is a big relief to me,” says Bishar Abdi Ali — a parent of four children at the same school. “I don’t have to worry about them even if there is nothing to eat at home.”

The government provides daily nutritious lunches for more than 1.6 million school children in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas. Schools such as Kilimani also supplement the government-supplied cereals, pulses, and oil with locally grown leafy vegetables — helping to improve nutrition levels for the children.

Schools such as Kilimani supplement the government-supplied cereals, pulses, and oil with locally grown leafy vegetables. Photo: WFP/Martin Karimi

WFP is supporting the design of a national school meals policy and working with the Government to digitize records and procurement processes thanks to continued support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Government of Finland.

This will help to improve real-time data visibility, reporting, decision-making and accountability for resources with the end goal of ensuring that schools receive adequate food supplies in good time.

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