Project Leche: Changing lives in the Dry Corridor

WFP and Kerry Group partnering to bring safe and sustainable dairy to school children in Honduras

Eilidh McCann
May 31, 2019 · 4 min read

Life is not easy in southwest Honduras — part of Central America’s Dry Corridor. In a region already suffering from significant income and resource inequality, drought and erratic weather are taking a further toll on families. Small-scale farmers are losing their livelihoods and one in four children suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Many environmental and socioeconomic factors underpin vulnerability rates in this region: insufficient food production, high unemployment and exposure to natural disasters are but a few.

A three-year initiative called Project Leche (milk, in Spanish) — supported by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Kerry Group: a world leader in Taste and Nutrition — seeks to make a deeper impact during this particularly trying time. The project supports dairy farmers in the Dry Corridor and connects them with local schools. This way, farmers have a secure outlook for their produce while their children receive a critical nutrition boost from the safe, sustainable dairy products they eat at school.

Thanks to support from Kerry Group, Project Leche has introduced safe and sustainable dairy products into the School Feeding programme in Honduras, which was initiated in 1999 and today serves a daily meal to more than one million students.

“This project shows how a sustainable value chain can lead to food security and improved nutrition, and highlights the key role the private sector can have in this,” says Patrick McKenna, Senior Private Sector Partnerships Manager at WFP.

Field Days facilitate knowledge exchange and sharing of best practices among participating Honduran farmers. Photo: WFP/Franklin Barahona

“Kerry Group has over 45 years experience in dairy and we have leveraged this and our nutritional expertise to ensure that dairy farmers in Honduras produce high quality milk in a sustainable manner and that dairy products are included in the schools meals programme for children in the country,” says Pat Murphy, Head of Kerry Agribusiness from the Kerry Group. “We have been very encouraged by the knowledge transfer that has taken place over the past two years between Kerry and Honduran farmers with the benefits of this partnership clearly visible on the ground.”

At the beginning of the project, Kerry facilitated the nomination of a lead group of smallholder farmers, who would guide the 68 participants and share best practices and lessons learnt among their peers.

In 2018, a small group visited Ireland to experience first-hand the importance of good farming practices. The knowledge gained in Ireland was then brought back to Honduras thus launching a cycle of peer-to-peer learning.

Training takes place at one of the farms participating in Project Leche. Photo: WFP/Marcella Alvarenga

At farm level, Kerry and other key stakeholders have been instrumental in educating farmers, placing cooling and heating treatments, and undertaking microbiological analysis of raw milk samples and registration of livestock on the national traceability system, thereby aligning with national policy priorities.

A major milestone in the partnership was in March 2017 when the select group of farmers achieved European standards — beyond what was required at national level — and ensured quality milk for school-aged beneficiaries.

“Despite very challenging farm conditions, the farmers have increased milk production and farm incomes by adopting better farming practices including forage production, milk quality etc.,” says Joe Moriarty, Kerry Group Dairy Expert.

Innovative breeding techniques have led to farmers increasing their income sources and establishing more resistant cattle herds. Photo: WFP/Marcella Alvarenga

Milk has increased considerably the nutritional value — 30% more protein and 43% more calcium — of the school meals enjoyed by over 7,600 Honduran children.

Besides improving the livelihoods of farmers and providing children with nutritious meals, the project has allowed WFP to undertake training of the wider community in nutrition and hygiene practices. The agribusiness and milk production expertise of Kerry Group — WFP’s first Irish private sector partner — and the contribution of other partners including the Honduran government and Zamorano University have been instrumental in this.

School children and their local communities learned about the importance of milk as a source of protein, which is high in calcium and other minerals essential for a healthy diet. By providing training to over 200 teachers as well as to the parents of children benefiting from the locally-sourced school meals, Project Leche has increased awareness on nutrition and hygiene practices.

This will not only drive healthier eating habits across generations but equally ensure demand for dairy products beyond WFP’s school feeding programme, allowing the community not only to overcome their food security concerns, but also to improve their nutrition and incomes independently.

Kerry, with its history as a dairy cooperative in Ireland, was the first Irish private sector partner of WFP. Find out more about the partnership.

“This project gives me an opportunity to help my people, help my country, and it is something makes me really proud.” Marcela Alvarenga, Project Manager WFP Honduras Country Office. Photo: WFP/Hetze Tosta

Learn more about WFP’s partnerships with the private sector

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