After a successful pilot last year (reaching 5,000 pupils), the Porridge 4 Education Programme is now targeting to reach 50,000 pupils during the next academic year, 100,000 kids by 2024 and up to 2.4 million youngsters by 2025.
The programme also aims to reduce Kenya’s illiteracy rates by 30%, the country’s malnutrition rates by 50% and its poverty index by 25% by 2026.
Funded by the Ministry of Education via its National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya (NACONEK), it aims to combat hunger and malnutrition experienced by school-going kids living in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) of the country - to improve school attendance and educational performance.
According to the Kenya Population and Housing Census (KPHC), the number of children attending school across the country is 18.3 million, with a national enrolment average of 85%, which is certainly high for an African country.
However, 90% of the 2.4 million children who do not attend school live in the ASAL region, which cover 80% of Kenya’s land mass and is home to almost 40% of its population.
The strain on food security and nutrition for the 15 million people living in this region is evident, with a 65% malnutrition rate compared with the national average of 29%. Every year, around three million children drop out of school due to drought. School meals are the only source of nutrition for many of these kids.
Get kids back into school
A survey by NACONEK and UNICEF highlighted school feeding as a key initiative to entice children back into school, while addressing issues related to food security and nutrition.
By placing malnutrition at its core, the initiative not only promises a brighter future for these impoverished children, but also serves as a beacon of hope for combating malnutrition on a larger scale across Africa.
Data on school attendance, educational performance and the health and physical development of the children is collected as part of the impact assessment and according to Ingredion director for AMEA Kennedy Ouma, school attendance at the Mwangaza Primary School in Kayole, a low-income neighbourhood in Nairobi, has significantly improved since the programme’s debut.
The initiative also serves to boost the livelihoods of local farmers.
More than 12,000 small-scale farmers have been contracted to supply the raw materials for the drinkable porridge, including the climate-resilient crops of maize, soybeans, sorghum and sweet potato. The supercharged porridge is fortified with 15 micronutrients - especially vitamins A, C and E, calcium, zinc and iron - and sweetened with stevia.
It’s processed by local producers Jetlak Foods and Unibrain Industries and packaged in a Tetra Brik Aseptic 250ml pack with a straw. Multiple prototypes of the cartons were prepared by Tetra Pak at its Nairobi facility before settling on the final version, which clocked up an acceptability rate of 88% among the schoolchildren.
Schools in the ASAL region, however, face numerous infrastructure challenges with the lack of refrigeration, potable water, electricity and logistics making safe nutrition an issue.
As such, training on food safety, product storage and hygiene form an important part of the programme. Used cartons are also collected and sent to recycling facility in Nairobi to be converted into items like school materials, desk and chairs.
“I hope this programme will be a catalyst to improve education attendance and attention in class,” said Jonathan Kinisu, MD of Tetra Pak East Africa.
“Our mission is to enhance food accessibility and ensure that it is safe.”
It’s very much a collaborative effort between the Kenya Ministry of Education; NACONEK; DSM, Ingredion, Tetra Pak, Tetra Pak Food for Development, Jetlak Foods, Qatar Foundation, Unibrain Industries and UNICEF (United Nations’ International Children’s Fund).
“This is a very emotionally fulfilling project to be involved in, as we are bringing our purpose to life by making life better for underprivileged children by improving their nutrition and getting them back to school,” said Kennedy Ouma, director of AMEA, for Ingredion.
“The current launch covers 50,000 children this year, rising to 100,000 in 2024 and then upscaled to 2.4 million by 2025 as the funding increases.
“This is a collaborative project, with all partners working together to secure a successful outcome from the onset. The core objective was formulating an affordable and nutritious product, based on climate resilient crops with a minimum 6 months’ shelf life for ease of distribution and storage, as the arid regions of Kenya lack clean water and cold storage due to lack of electricity.”
He noted Ingredion’s role was to provide the stabilising, texturising and sweetening solutions expertise, which was done through numerous trials at the company’s idea label and pilot plant facilities in Nairobi, Johannesburg (South Africa) and Luebeck (Germany).
“The overall goal was to develop a nutritious product with good taste and texture liked by children,” said Ouma.
Added Mike O’Riordan, regional president, EMEA, Ingredion, “I am really proud of our team for skilfully collaborating with multiple key stakeholders to make life better for Kenya’s future generation.”
Royal DSM provided the fortification expertise for the addition of vitamins and micronutrients as per local nutritional deficiencies.
The partners have already started working on new formulations - including fruit flavoured variants - to provide variety for the kids.