School Food – What can we learn from Kenya

Specialist schools dietitian Dave Rex from Highland Council gave a talk at our conference in Inverness on diets in Scotland and Kenya, which shows how dependent we have become in Scotland on processed and sugary food. See…

In contrast, school meals in Kenya are based on locally grown produce. Many rural Kenyan schools have access to farmland, where they can grow most of the food used in school kitchens. Pupils eat the same food nearly every day. The diet is traditional – simple and highly nutritious, largely vegetarian, with most protein coming from a balance of legumes and cereals and other vital nutrients from fresh greens. In Michinda Boys’ Boarding School, the pupils have a bowl of githeri – a mix of beans, potatoes and maize, with the addition of fresh greens, such as spinach or kale – for lunch five days a week, with a variation on Wednesdays and Saturdays, including fish or meat, also produced on the school farm. The evening meal is ugali, maize meal porridge. Pupils drink sweet milky tea, with milk produced from the school dairy cows.

I did not see overweight or obese children in rural Kenya. In Scotland this is now a very significant problem, partly because we have until recently encouraged ‘healthy choices’ alongside refined processed food, as fresh, locally produced food is seen as the more expensive option for school meals. This is now changing with the introduction of two Scottish Government initiatives: “Better Eating Better Learning” and “Good Food Nation”.

The School Farm at Michinda Boys’ Boarding School: Charles, the Michinda School farmer, is supported by a small team to grow, harvest and process much of the food used in the school – mostly maize, beans, kale and potatoes. They also keep livestock which is grazed on Napier grass – sheep, dairy cows and chickens.  The school fishpond is stocked with tilapia, a vegetarian fish fed on Napier grass clippings, kale and spinach, its diet supplemented when young with commercial feed. The school is in the Mau Forest, much of which has been cleared by commercial logging which is reducing the natural forest. The school is contributing to reforestation by planting a small forest of native trees on part of the school grounds.

Local food is what rural people eat: “Family farmers have strong economic links to the rural sector; they contribute strongly to employment, especially in developing countries where agriculture still employs the majority of the labour force. In addition, the incremental income generated by family farming is spent on housing, education, clothing etc. in the local non-farm economy.” Family Farmers: Feeding the world, caring for the earth, FAO 2014

“We must not underestimate the importance of rain-fed small-scale farming in Kenya whose biodiversity-based approach (mixed crops, small and big livestock) is the “insurance” for the farmers especially faced with climate change challenges. Small- scale farmers produce more than 70% of food consumed locally while industrial large-scale farms produce mainly for export. This can be compared with crofting, though too much rain is the problem in Scotland and local food is not as economically accessible.”

Samuel Muhunyu

The Mau Forest: There are challenges in encouraging new ways of local food production amongst forest dwellers such as the hunter-gatherers of the Ogiek tribe, in the Mau Forest, which has global significance as one of the lungs of the Earth. Here deforestation has been caused largely by commercial logging , both legal and illegal, large- and small- scale farming and pastoralism. NECOFA Kenya works with Ogiek community leaders to improve the balance between trees, livestock, crops, forest-honey production, wildlife conservation and tourism. This brings economic and health benefits to a much neglected and persecuted community, from attracting tourists to the newly built eco-lodge, to finding an international market for the honey through Slow Food’s Ark of Taste. Other benefits include the building of a primary school, sponsored by a major logging company, a community dispensary and a new maternity hospital to help combat high levels of infant and maternal mortality.

“In rural Kenya, meals at school and in the home are simple, the same nearly every day, but they are freshly prepared and nourishing, with a high proportion of green vegetables, pulses, rice and maize and very small quantities of meat and fish. Cooking is usually done on a charcoal or wood fire, often in one or two simple sufuria, – cooking pots. The soils in Olenguruone are very fertile and many families have their own shamba, a bit like a croft or smallholding, where they grow much of their own food, some cash crops (including tea) and maybe raise a cow, a few sheep and some hens. Many families have started to use zero grazing, which means tethering and feeding cattle and sheep in a yard area and using all the dung as fertiliser for their crops. At night sheep from the fields are locked in pale- fenced pens to keep them safe from hyenas!”

Gina Scanlan, Dunrossness Primary, Shetland.

Get in Touch

Oops! We could not locate your form.