Government’s Ambitious Plan to Expand School Meal Programme

The Ministry of Education (MoE) in Kenya is set to welcome an additional 1.7 million learners into the School Meal Programme (SMP) during the current 2023/2024 Financial Year. This ambitious initiative is a response to President William Ruto’s directive to reach an impressive 4 million learners, showcasing the government’s commitment to addressing the nutritional needs of vulnerable students.

Managed by the National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya (NACONEK), the SMP has a rich history, initially implemented by the Government of Kenya (GoK) in arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) with support from the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) back in 1980. Over time, it transitioned to the Government under Home Grown School Feeding, currently benefitting 2.3 million vulnerable learners in food-insecure areas.

To ensure the continuity and sustainability of the program, the MoE is actively developing and operationalizing a national School Meals Policy (SMP). This policy aims to enhance existing school meals guidelines and lays the groundwork for achieving Universal School Meals Coverage by the year 2030.

As of now, the SMP is operational in 26 ASAL counties, utilizing two modalities: in-kind for 11 counties and cash–transfer for selected schools in the remaining counties. Special needs schools are comprehensively covered in the program. However, the government is not stopping there. Plans are underway to introduce a third modality involving centralized kitchens, particularly in the informal urban settlements of major cities and towns.

In a remarkable move, President Ruto presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for the Nairobi School Meals Programme Kitchen in June this year, a key part of the initiative called ‘Dishi na County.’ This initiative will see the construction of 17 kitchens across the county, each serving between 10-15 schools. These centralized kitchens are designed to prepare high-quality, affordable, and nutritious meals on a large scale.

What sets this program apart is the integration of technology. The ‘Tap2Eat’ platform is introduced, allowing parents to pre-pay through M-Pesa to an online account. Each child in the program is issued with a wristband, facilitating a cashless payment system by tapping onto a digital device at the point of serving the meal. This innovative approach not only eases the financial burden on parents but also ensures a streamlined process of meal distribution.

The partnership between the Ministry of Education and the Nairobi County Government, led by Governor Sakaja, is a testament to the commitment to scaling up the feeding program for over 1.9 million school-going children in all public schools. The three-year renewable agreement aims to expand the scope of school feeding, gradually including all Special Needs Schools and Camp-Based Refugee Schools. Additionally, plans are in place to introduce fortified food supplements to combat hunger and severe malnutrition, particularly in lower primary schools.

According to NACONEK, the SMP has significantly contributed to reducing hunger and improving nutritional intake, ultimately enhancing primary school completion rates and learning outcomes in the regions where it has been operational. This bold move by the government reflects a deep commitment to the well-being of the nation’s future—its young minds.

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