School meals key to child welfare

School feeding programme

School feeding programme in a school in Turkana County.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Finance Bill, 2024 has come as a shocker to not only the taxpayers but also recipients of government services. The axe of austerity has fallen, indiscriminately chopping off the budgets for important social expenditure such as the national school feeding programme.

The programme has been a lifeline to many school children countrywide, making a major contribution to increased school attendance rates. It also reduces stunting in children, improving nutritional outcomes and thus their learning outcomes.

From a social protection perspective, scrapping school feeding would have a profound effect on the children who depend on it early into their life-cycle. It will also negatively impact the country’s human development index in the short term and, more importantly, have a disastrous long-term effect as regards our overall national human capital discourse.

The lack of clarity as to whether it has been scrapped or merely reallocated a different vote is even more worrisome and signifies a larger problem of poor policy articulation by the government.

Social protection

Scrapping of school meals would jeopardise numerous social protection partnerships developed over a long period to support such programmes and claw back the gains in extending the right to education to children from vulnerable households, particularly in the arid and semi-arid regions, where it is a huge motivator to school attendance and retention.

Granted, the national government is facing a myriad challenges with financing its agenda and other obligations such as sovereign debt management. But there ought to be a better way of achieving fiscal austerity without defunding critical programmes.

The programme also links with the Kenya Kwanza government’s ‘Bottom-Up’ agenda, which seeks to give the vulnerable a fair shot at life through quality and affordable or free education. The programme is indispensable to the government’s basic education and social protection agenda.

Mr Jumba is a social protection specialist. [email protected]. @JamesJumba