School head teachers count the beans to prevent food waste

Jaribu Primary School pupils enjoy their lunch. [File, Standard]

Every bean that ends up on Griffins Ochieng’s plate at Jaribu Primary School in Garissa County can now be traced to a government warehouse where it was first stored. 

And that’s the idea – that nothing must go to waste in school meals. With the World Food Programme (WFP)’s support, meals are integrated into the National Education Management Information System (NEMIS). It is a powerful example of ways cutting-edge technology can make a tangible difference in people’s lives — showcased during the International Day for Universal Access to Information on September 29. 

“WFP has worked with software developers from the Ministry of Education to capture and digitise school meals records throughout the entire supply chain,” says Charles Njeru, WFP’s School Meals Manager in Kenya. “Authorised persons can access and scrutinise the data at any time.”

The government is now rolling out the initiative countrywide, with WFP supporting teacher training on how to update and track school-meals data. Jaribu Primary School is among those now ready to ditch manual registers for digital files.

Headteacher Mohamed Gedi is confident the new system will make work easier for his busy staff. “I can update my records from any location,” he adds. “I also have a good visualisation of the food allocation and the movement of stocks in my store.”

Educators like Gedi now have a mobile phone application on their smartphones, whose development was supported by WFP with the backing of the United States Department of Agriculture. 

It is another example of how WFP remains in lockstep with every transition in Kenya’s school meals programme, which the government took over in 2018.

The mobile app is a major game changer, not just for school meals but for the entire tracing system. Educators in far-flung areas – where internet connections are often patchy or nonexistent – can easily update data such as enrolment, daily attendance and allocation of books, even when they’re offline. Once in a while, they connect to the internet for the data to be backed up.

The online tool is empowering teachers, Gedi says, since they know the supplies and exact quantities to expect from transporters. If there is a discrepancy, they can reject the consignment and raise a complaint. With the manual records, catching such discrepancies was nearly impossible.

“Every learner counts and every meal counts,” says Nereah Olick, the Director of Primary Education. “Digitising the school meals records will improve accountability and transparency in the overall management of the programme.”

School meals in the country– typically hearty hot lunches consisting of maize or rice and beans, along with leafy vegetables – are critical in helping to keep children healthy and in the classroom. This is especially important right now, as the country’s worst drought in decades intensifies hunger – with an expected 4.35 million people facing acute food insecurity. 

For Ochieng, who is in grade 7, school meals are sometimes the only food he eats all day.