Economy

Schools cut food for needy pupils on funding woes

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Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Hundreds of thousands of children from vulnerable homes are forced to study hungry or drop out of school amid the government's funding delays and failure to review per capita allocation to match market prices.

The latest audit of the government-funded feeding programme for about two million children in arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) across 25 counties, shows that funding has fallen to slightly more than a third of the requirement.

The State gives each pupil between Sh10 and Sh12 per day, while private sector organisations running similar programmes spend at least Sh30 for every learner.

A 258 percent rise in food prices since 2009, when the last review of the programme’s funding was done, has affected its operations—forcing schools to cut portions.

“The allocation for a meal, per child, per day was set at Sh10 by the World Food Programme (WFP) in 2009 but has not been reviewed despite the increasing food prices. A meal that cost Sh10 in 2009 was likely to cost about Sh35.8 in 2022,” reads the Auditor-General's report for the five years to June 2022, noting that more than 1.5 million pupils depend on the meals.

122 days without food

Under the school feeding programme, the government is expected to provide meals every school day throughout the year. Yet, due to inadequate and delayed funding, the pupils miss meals between 20 to 70 percent of the 175 school days per year, translating to 122 days.

“Out of the 1,050 (academic) days, they provided meals for 541 school days in the in-kind modality and 212 school days in cash transfer, translating to 52 percent and 20 percent, respectively,” the audit establishes.

The in-kind modality is where the government procures food at the state department level and then supplies schools through respective sub-county education offices, while with the cash transfer, schools receive funds to purchase the food on their own. In-kind modality is preferred in arid counties while cash transfers are largely applied in select semi-arid and informal settlements.

Also read: Schools set for budget change on costly food

While the Ministry of Education acknowledges that the Sh10 funding per pupil does not represent a fair value, the Auditor-General faults it for not raising the budget, resulting in a Sh10 billion shortfall in funding in just five years.

“Despite the increase in food commodity prices, the state department has not made any effort to establish the exact cost of providing a meal so as to adjust the per capita allocation accordingly. The weakening purchasing power over the years has led to less food purchased and thereby fewer feeding days for the pupils,” reads the report, which was completed in August and published last month.

In the face of the 258 percent rise in food prices, procurement has been difficult as suppliers cannot deliver commodities at low prices.

Tendering hurdles

“The state department anticipated to procure vegetable oil at Sh3,800. However, none of the suppliers met the price and the department had to carry out re-tendering for the supply of vegetable oil at a price of Sh5,950. The re-tendering delayed the process by two months,” the report notes.

This jeopardises the government’s plan to have at least 10 million pupils benefit from the provision of school meals to enhance learning by 2030 with debate to have the programme rolled out nationally gaining momentum.

“For instance, in 2021/22, the food commodities required to feed 851,987 pupils for the 175 school days were 447,293 bags of rice, 66,266 bags of beans, 37,274 jerry cans of oil and 11,928 bales of salt. The state department only procured 117,000 bags of rice, 33,394 bags of beans, 12,780 jerry cans of oil, and 3,408 bales of salt,” says the report.

This translated to a deficit of between 50 and 74 percent across the different products.

Also, the disparities in enrolment data between schools and the ministry have led to a shortfall in the delivery of food commodities, while the non-inclusion of pre-primary school children in the programme has left schools having to serve the little that gets to them among a bigger number of children.

“Due to the increase in enrolment, schools either served less than the required daily rations or the required daily rations which reduced the number of feeding days. The impact of the insufficiency meant that pupils still endured hunger in school, missing classes, poor concentration skills, and widening of gaps for the haves and have-nots even in cases where the schools initiate school-level feeding,” the audit notes.

In some cases, schools have been forced to serve pupils rice alone as delivery of cooking oil, beans, and salt delays, while in others, schools have had to exchange food commodities for transport services for delivery of the commodities to schools, where government funding is insufficient to get the food to schools.

Between 2018 and 2022, out of 20 sampled schools, 13 had food delivered more than 20 days after the opening of the school term, mainly due to delays in disbursement of funds.

Read: Education gets Sh62bn more in mini- budget

The objective

The objective of the national school meals and nutrition programme, introduced in 1980, is to increase school enrolment, stabilise pupils’ attendance and ability to concentrate on school tasks and improve the transition from one grade and level to another.

The government allocated Sh7.7 billion to the programme between 2017/18 and 2021/22, though the requirement was Sh17.2 billion.

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