Good Food + New Tech = Increased Access to Nutritious Meals for Kenya`s School Children

Children bear the weight of saving our environment. In Kenya, drought and food crises threaten 5.4 million lives - urgent action is needed. Wawira Njiru explains how together, we can empower the next generation, end hunger, and build a brighter future.
Good Food + New Tech = Increased Access to Nutritious Meals for Kenya`s School Children
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The pressure of saving our environment, undoing the injustices done by generations prior and creating a sustainable world order rests on our children. We place them in school with the expectation that they work hard and be the very best of what humanity can be - yet in many places around the world, we refuse to feed them.

Severe drought, high inflation, conflicts and climate-related disasters are just a few factors that are putting people’s lives at serious risk around the world. As with any humanitarian crisis, children remain society’s most vulnerable demographic affected by these desperate conditions. Focusing on Kenya, we are experiencing one of the most alarming food crises in decades. The number of people facing severe hunger in Kenya is expected to reach 5.4 million this year, drastically driving up the number of children facing malnutrition. The historic drought coupled with the projected population growth means Kenya is on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster.

What needs to be done?

The despondent picture painted above is not for hyperbolic effect, neither is it a white flag. The situation is dire, but there is still much that can be done to support the next generation. While Kenya boasts one of the more advanced education systems in the region, more is needed to ensure the children within the education system are healthy and nourished enough to learn. We can invest in learning, but our efforts will largely be futile unless we invest in the learner. This support starts with a basic human right: food. Well-nourished children are healthier, have improved cognition, and are more likely to thrive and fulfil their potential. Achieving this for all young learners requires the simple solution of school feeding, a multi-sectoral scheme proven since the 1980s, and the commitment to creating this reality.

There are over 10 million children attending public primary schools in Kenya, and feeding them every day is an opportunity to create a vehicle for promoting the food system whilst linking local production to a regular market and demand.

Food for Education is a non-profit organisation with a vision to provide the most basic need – food to the most vulnerable of our population. Food for Education seeks to eradicate classroom hunger by creating the blueprint of a scalable and replicable model for school feeding in Kenya. As of mid-2023, Food for Education (F4E) feeds 140,000 children between the ages of 3-15, every single day in five counties across Kenya. Our mission is to serve hot, nutritious, affordable meals every day to 1 million children in 50% of Kenya’s counties by 2027 and, since inception in 2012, we have made remarkable steps towards meeting that mission. A milestone of 15 million meals served cumulatively in 10 years presents the exponential growth of F4E, propelled by an indisputable need, a dedicated team and a unique operation and business model.

A multi-sectoral solution

While the impact of feeding children cannot be overstated, it is important to recognise the multi-sectoral nature of school feeding. It ties into education, health and agriculture. There are about 570 million farms worldwide with agriculture accounting for 4% of global GDP. In Kenya, the sector employs more than 40% of the total population and more than 70% of Kenya's rural people. There are over 10 million children attending public primary schools in Kenya, and feeding them every day is an opportunity to create a vehicle for promoting the food system whilst linking local production to a regular market and demand. Brazil’s national school feeding policy is a prime example of how school feeding can create an impact on millions of farmers, and models like F4E are proof that school feeding can be implemented sustainably while creating employment, supporting greener energy, building the local economy and most importantly, feeding the future.

Also on the Forum Network: For sustainable development, support the faces of climate resilience by Founder-CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water
The paths to sustainable development are already challenged by repeated shocks. But they do not account for climate variability. This must — and can – change, if we let nature show the way, argues Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO-Founder of CEEW.

Feeding the Future

F4E’s model embeds efficiency and sustainability by merging two key innovations; a near field communication (NFC) technology with a hub and spoke implementation. The first feature of the F4E’s blueprint model is the hub and spoke approach. F4E operates seven high-tech, high-efficiency central kitchens, primarily powered by eco-briquettes (compressed biomass), to deliver hot meals to schools within a 20km radius. Meals are cooked in the early morning hours in the centralised kitchens, stored in sealed containers and distributed by a fleet of school feeding trucks. This model allows for standardisation, and efficiency, whilst offering a significant reduction in energy and capital expenditure, thereby reducing cost per meal and reducing the size of our carbon footprint. Once the food reaches the schools, we leverage the second unique feature - NFC technology.

The innovative ‘Tap2Eat’ technology is a fintech solution pioneered by F4E and applies NFC to enable parents to pre-pay for their children to access school meals. It is a micro-contribution platform that renders physical cash nonessential. In essence, each child in the F4E program is issued with a wristband linked to their parents’ virtual wallet account. When the child receives a meal, an F4E agent operating a digital device ‘taps’ the wristband and a cashless payment is made. By using technology like this, not only does the model allow for data-driven, real-time decisions that improve cost-effectiveness and enhance operations, it also provides parents with the flexibility to pay on a daily or weekly basis, as their economic circumstances allow. These unique features, in conjunction with sourcing fresh, nutritious, local ingredients have allowed F4E to provide meals at a low cost to a wider base of learners ... although unfortunately not wide enough.

What will it take to feed the next generation?

In short, it will take collaborative efforts. The global school feeding ecosystem is primarily made of three main entities: government; private sector; community groups. A siloed nature can too easily limit the impact. The recommended system is a blended system of actors; a partnership where the government creates the legal and policy landscape upon which state and non-state players can grow to meet the expanding demand of young learners who are the future of our continent.

Learn more about OECD's work: How to make better policies for school meals

The provision of school meals by governments is an important intervention for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as governments look to give children worldwide equal opportunities to maximise their education regardless of their families’ economic situation.
School meals policies achieve multiple policy objectives, including those related to the triple challenge facing food systems: ensuring food security and nutrition for a growing population, supporting the livelihoods of millions of farmers and others in the food chain, and doing so in an environmentally sustainable way.
Many countries have implemented school meal programmes – in some cases, these programmes have been in place for decades.
A key goal of these programmes is to reduce food insecurity for school students and to address health inequalities that impact children's well-being, behaviour and ability to learn. In addition, school meal programmes contribute to strengthening support services to families.

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