Implementing school feeding in Kenya: Unlocking scalability

Implementing school feeding in Kenya: Unlocking scalability

This is a guest blog by Elisheba Kiru, Special Education Consultant, Nicola Okero, External Relations Manager at Food For Education, and Ruth Muendo, Senior Impact Manager at Food for Education.

Food for Education is a non-profit social enterprise feeding 300,000 young learners every school day across Kenya, and dedicated to mainstreaming school feeding programs across Africa.

As a result of a confluence of factors, Kenya’s cost of living has reached a 5-year high, having a disproportionately deleterious impact on low-income households. Quality of life, especially for children, is negatively impacted with access to shelter, security and education at risk, while access to quality nutrition is threatened by rising costs. Against this backdrop, the recently launched Dishi na County Nairobi county-wide school feeding programme, spearheaded by county governor, Johnson Sakaja, promises to deliver impact at scale. While Kenya has a long history of school feeding, Dishi na County brings in a unique, cost-efficient model that may unlock scalability.

Kenya’s documented history of school feeding begins in the late 70s with the well-known “Nyayo Milk” launched by President Daniel Arap Moi, where small packets of milk would be distributed to public schools to increase attendance and enrollment. To this day, those who attended school in the 80s fondly remember ‘Maziwa ya Nyayo.’ In the 1980s the World Food Programme (WFP) began implementing a programme, along with the Ministry of Education, to feed primary schools in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya and in urban informal settlements. However, as Kenya’s status as defined by the World Bank changed from Low Income to Middle Income, the international aid was reduced. The model of school feeding thus shifted from development partner led back to government led. A handover strategy was developed and in June 2018 all schools under the WFP school meals programme were handed over to the Government.


Government ownership has been characterised by a wider reach and policy development. However, several factors including inadequate resources have impeded implementation; despite the strides, Kenya is still far from achieving universal school feeding. Other models led by local communities and social enterprises provided alternatives to state provision. Unfortunately, the reliance on parents and teachers to work or provide in-kind support in community programs meant that shocks to the local economy quickly destabilise school feeding efforts. Meanwhile private sector enterprises, although efficient, lack the mandate to institutionalise standards.

Enter Dishi na County. It is uniquely a public-private partnership school feeding model, born from the realisation that the government resources can unlock sustainability and scalability built upon the innovation and efficiencies of the private sector. The program promises to feed 250,000+ young learners in Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres and public primary and ECD schools all across the Nairobi-city county in 2024, in partnership with Food for Education, a social enterprise currently feeding over 300,000 children across Kenya through centralised cooking and Near Field Communication technology that collects and communicates real-time data.

Kenya’s history of school feeding models highlights the various ways to increase access to quality nutrition to children. This new public-private partnership presents potential to lower costs and synergize efforts, thereby reaching more children. Collaborative partnerships combined with robust monitoring systems, which provide real-time data on program impact and needs, establish and sustain a transformative blueprint in the continent. 2024 will be the year to watch Kenya’s school feeding efforts.

Climate-Smart School Meal Programs

Bar graph illustrating how Beef, porch, and Cheese have largest greenhouse gas emission

Climate-Smart School Meal Programs

    by Melissa Pradhan, Survey Associate: Asia, The Pacific, & The Middle East

The IPCC Reports have repeatedly called for alarms to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to limit the increase of global average temperature to 2ºC, if not 1.5ºC. World class evidence and studies have indicated that failing to meet this target will result in catastrophic events with the potential to cause adverse cascading impacts on human life and the economy. 

Emissions sourced from the Agriculture, Forest and Other Land Use sector alone have been noted to be just under a quarter of the total anthropogenic GHG emissions making up to approximately 10–12 Gigatonne of CO2eq per year (Smith, 2014). Mitigating GHG emissions from this sector, therefore, has the potential to deliver large-scale emission reduction. 

In the 2020 academic year, 330.3 million students received school meal programs globally (GCNF, 2022). In the United States alone, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) reaches millions of children every day. Nutrition Standards for the US NSLP shapes a USD 14 billion market and food service directors are obligated to adhere to the recommended nutrition standards. However, it was found that the current menus are not aligned with the latest nutritional science, and in addition have huge impacts on the environment. Researchers found that the NSLP menus incorporate the most carbon-intensive foods compared to the diet recommendations from the EAT-Lancet Commission’s healthy reference diet (Poole, 2020).

A study by Stern identified that the use of animal products in school lunches, mainly beef and dairy, was primarily the major driver of emissions (Stern, 2022). This is because beef hot dogs generate seven times more carbon than tofu and veggie stir-fry rice, for example. If all School districts opted for a reduced animal food menu, the US alone could minimize their carbon footprint by 700 million kg CO2eq that is equivalent to installing 99,000 residential solar panels or eliminating 150,000 cars from the roads for a year (​​Hamerschlag, 2017). In addition, reducing institutional purchase of factory-farmed meat can also strengthen local food systems.

Increasing evidence suggests that school meal programs can be made both healthier and climate-friendly at a low cost without having to compromise on meeting the recommended nutrition standards (Hamerschlag, 2017). As school districts have the liberty to design their own menu to meet the federal nutrition requirements, they hold the potential to influence dietary behaviors and the country’s agricultural landscape for years to come. 

Bar graph illustrating how Beef, porch, and Cheese have largest greenhouse gas emission

The Oakland Unified School District, for example, has already successfully implemented two initiatives – Oakland’s Lean and Green Wednesday Program, and California Thursdays through which they were able to successfully decrease their carbon footprint by 14% simply by reducing the frequency of meat, poultry and cheese in school lunches and opting for plant-based nutritious meals. The district also saved USD 42,000 by cutting costs by one percent per meal (Hamerschlag, 2017). In a similar manner, preliminary calculations suggest that the NSLP could also cut their cost from USD 3.81 per meal to nearly half if the EAT diet is incorporated into their menus. 

Outside the United States, as a part of the National Climate Initiative, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) has formed a joint project initiated and managed by  the Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment (IZT) called Climate Efficient School Canteens (KEEKS). Through the project, 22 different ways to reduce GHGs have been analyzed and quantified through the “Measure-Map”. For example, the kitchen staff, chef and caterers are trained to prepare low-cost, healthy, sustainable meals, and utilize energy-saving appliances, plant-based ingredients and low-carbon meat alternatives. This way, KEEKS has significantly contributed to meet the German Government’s target of reducing 40% of the country’s GHG emissions by 2020 by training over 12,500 kitchen staff, reaching 23,000 students across Germany, and offering 140,000 students plant-based school lunches for a week.

Overall, to make school lunches more climate-friendly, some low-hanging fruits could be:

  • Incorporating lunches that include more whole grains, seafood, nuts and seeds to meet the protein requirements. 
  • Reducing the frequency of serving beef and dairy and instead utilizing cheaper forms of protein such as legumes
  • Switching to plant-centric meals and/or seafood
  • Opting for energy-efficient kitchen appliances and behavior

In addition, local governments and nonprofits can also assist schools in building capacity to begin serving more sustainable lunches. The current policy requirements for school meals should also be updated to allow a wider variety of available climate-smart grain options. As more agricultural products are increasingly susceptible to the changing climate, expanding the options of food items on school menus can also ensure that we are climate-resilient and increase food security.

The world food system is not only driving climate change but also aiding increasing levels of diet-related diseases. It is imperative that we take initiatives to adopt sustainable diets and reduce carbon emissions wherever possible in order to safeguard human life. There are opportunities to opt for a lower carbon footprint for school meal programs through minor changes in our choices of items on the school menu, and the co-benefits in the form of reduced costs and increased nutrients in climate-friendly school meals can help us develop healthier lunches. 


Global Child Nutrition Foundation (2022). School Meal Programs Around the World: Results from the 2021 Global Survey of School Meal Programs ©. Accessed at link.

Hamerschlag, K. & Polk, U.K., (2017). Shrinking the Carbon and Water Footprint of School Food: A Recipe for Combating Climate Change. Friends of the Earth. Accessed at link.

Poole, M.K., Musicus, A.A. & Kenney, E.L. (2020). Alignment of US School Lunches with the EAT-Lancet Healthy Reference Diet’s Standards for Planetary Health. Health Affairs V.39 N.12.

Smith, P. et. al. (2014). Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Accessed at link.

Stern, A.L., Blackstone, N.T., Economos, C.D. et al. (2022). Less animal protein and more whole grain in US school lunches could greatly reduce environmental impacts. Nature: Commun Earth Environ 3, 138 (2022).

UNFCCC (2018). Climate-Efficient School Kitchens and Plant-Powered Pupils Germany. Accessed at link.