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Kenya: Mobile canteen helps parents, boots school attendance

Non-profit Food4education serving meals to pupils at the Thome Primary and Junior Secondary school in Kiambu, Kenya on Oct. 11, 2023.   -  
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Cleared / AP


Pupils are happy when they see the food4education food truck arriving at Thome Primary and Junior Secondary school in Kiambu, about 15 kilometres from Kenya's capital.

The vehicle is operated by Food4Education, a Kenyan non-profit, it's part of the largest initiative of this kind in the country: providing 4 million primary school children a meal per day.

Founded in 2012, the organisation aims to boost school attendance by providing meals which parents could not afford otherwise.

The organisation cooks and delivers hot meals to schools countrywide.

It has additionally partnered with county governments to ensure that they reach as many schools as possible at the lowest cost to families.

Meals are priced at KSh 30 ($0.20), but in some schools, counties are subsidising them so that families only bear 50% to 83% of the cost.

"We provide kids with an NFC (near field communication)-enabled watch that parents are able to top up using mobile money, and in this case, we use M-Pesa. During lunchtime, the process of making the payment takes 2-3 seconds, deducting the money and the kids are able to access," says Wairimu Nyandia, the COO of Food4Education.

M-Pesa is a very popular money transfer app in Kenya.

The wristband is then tapped by a phone every time a child has lunch.

Food4Education says it's currently serving 165,000 meals every day.

Eunice Wangari is a 7th grader at Thome primary school who eats Food4Education meals.

"Previously, we were carrying our foods from home," she says.

"Sometimes they got spoiled and also cold. We were also not concentrating in class due to hunger, and since tap-to-eat came (name of the wristband), we have been having warm and delicious food, and they have also improved our marks."

Headteacher Mburu Peter Njoroge is happy with the impact the meals are having on his school.

"Before the introduction of Food4Education, most of our learners would be absent due to hunger. There was no concentration among the learners since the setup around these schools we have the majority being needy. But since the inception of the tap-to-eat Food4Education, we have seen a great improvement in our learners' school attendance," he says.

Food4Education says it sources food directly from farmers and notably uses technology and smart supply chain to sustainably deliver the meals.

Balanced diet leads to success

Wanjiru Ngugi is a parent to a student at Thome Primary and Junior Secondary school.

She also says the effect has been positive.

"Right now, I am not struggling even when I leave early. Again, the food is hot and very cheap. KSh 15 ($0.10) is very little money, even when you take the child to a restaurant, there is no food for Ksh15 ($0.15). But the food is KSh 15 ($0.10), and my child eats and is satisfied, even when she comes home in the evening, she tells me they ate either beans or green grams, and she is satisfied, and she wants the same food she was served in school," she says.

Henry Ng'ethe, chairperson of the Nutrition Association of Kenya, stresses that a balanced diet is essential for all children.

"A balanced diet or what we are calling a nutritious diet is very important because, number one, it boosts the immunity of these children, and number two, helps these children to be able to concentrate in school, because we have nutrients that help with concentration we have various vitamin B complexes which are critical. We have other micronutrients, the level 1 (meant type 1) micronutrients, which are very important: the likes of chromium, the likes of zinc, the likes of iron and all these are very important," he says.

Inflation is making it harder for parents to afford food for their children.

According to a Rockefeller Foundation report from April 2023, "1.6 million Kenyan children in arid and semi-arid areas receive school meals, while 8.4 million go without."

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