In 2017, like in 2016, we successfully provided a daily lunch to all 2,750 pupils across our seven partner schools (the equivalent of just over 500,000 meals). However, the year has not been without its challenges.
Kenya, like much of East Africa, suffered a severe and prolonged drought in the latter half of 2016 and much of 2017. The drought saw food prices soar, with prices of the domestically grown staples which make up our lunch menu (beans and maize) increasing by as much as 60% in the 12 months up to May 2017. Although the cost of imported rice remained stable, this still resulted in an almost 45% increase in the daily cost of delivering the programme.
At the same time, a succession of failed harvests in our project area due to the absence of any notable rainfall in the 18 months up to September 2017 meant that for many children in our partner schools the lunch we provide became an ever more vital lifeline. So much so that young and vulnerable pupils from outlying ‘feeder’ pre-schools which we were not reaching with our lunch programme began walking long distances through the bush in intense heat to reach our partner schools just so they could get a guaranteed meal at lunchtime. This was placing the facilities at one of our partner schools in particular under great strain and as a result we took the decision in February to formally extend the lunch programme to these feeder schools, immediately benefiting an additional 100 children.
However, the extra demand and spiralling prices placed enormous pressure on our limited resources and as a result, in May we took the decision to reduce the amount of maize and rice in each portion - by 25% in the case of maize for the primary pupils and 50% in the case of rice for the nursery pupils. These reduced portion sizes, which are now broadly similar to those provided by Mary’s Meals and other charities delivering small-scale school feeding programmes in Kenya, will remain in place permanently going forward.
With these adjustments to portion sizes we were able to control costs and, in the end, the total cost of the programme in 2017 was approximately £43,500.
Impact of the programme
The programme continues to have considerable health and educational benefits for children.
For many children, especially during the recent drought, it has been their only guaranteed meal of the day. In the words of one headteacher: "The food that African Promise supplies for our school is the only refuge that saves the life of the most vulnerable children in this part of the earth." The impact of a hearty meal is very obviously reflected in the behaviour and attitude, as well as physical health and appearance, of the children across our partner schools, compared to pre-introduction of the programme and compared to pupils in other nearby schools.
Meanwhile, headteachers continue to report near 100% attendance rates and improved levels of concentration and attentiveness amongst pupils, with their minds and bodies fuelled for effective and productive learning. We are in no doubt that the programme is a major factor in our partner schools increasingly being ranked among the best performing schools in the region. And as more-and-more children benefit from the feeding programme from their very first days in school we expect the impact on academic performance and attainment to become even more profound.
Looking ahead to 2018
In 2018 we expect to deliver the programme as we have done in 2017, although we hope that it will be a less challenging 12 months!
Thankfully, food prices appear to be falling back towards pre-drought levels and the latest batch of food we bought for this first month of the new school year was purchased at prices we have not seen for the best part of a year, so fingers crossed that trend continues and prices eventually return to pre-drought levels.
We have budgeted the programme for 2018 at approximately £43,000, the equivalent of just £16 per pupil for the entire year.
On behalf of all our partner schools and their pupils, thank you for your support.