The FoodLeader project develops African school feeding and skills in food and nutrition security

The University of Helsinki leads the FoodLeader project which focuses on developing school feeding and education in Kenya and Mozambique.

Nutrition and food scientists from the University of Helsinki lead the FoodLeader project which is developing sustainable food systems and improving nutrition security in collaboration with the University of Nairobi in Kenya and the University of Lúrio in Mozambique. The project will enhance the capacity of all three universities in educating future experts to improve food and nutrition security in these countries.

The challenges of Kenyan school meals relate to availability, costs and food safety

In March, project members met during a kick-off meeting at the University of Nairobi. The meeting focused on planning the project implementation and meeting the local stakeholders. In addition, two local primary schools were visited, where the project members were familiarized with Kenyan school feeding programmes.

- In Kenya, school meals and their nutritional quality vary from school to another. For example, school meals may be organized by the school or there may not be school feeding at all. School meals also cost money, although, the municipality may subsidise them, not all pupils can afford a meal every day, says Katri Salo, project coordinator at the University of Helsinki.

- In Nairobi, school meals have recently started to concentrate in large central kitchens. This allows cheaper meals, and more families can afford meals to their children during the school day. On the other hand, it causes new challenges in terms of nutritional quality and food safety. For many children, school meals may be the only meal of the day, and while it is extremely important from a nutritional perspective, in the worst-case scenario it could endanger child’s health.

According to Salo, the quality and safety of school meals should be systematically monitored to improve the programmes in the right direction. School meals are not isolated from the challenges in the food system, such as climate change. Hence, experts developing the programmes need to be able to consider the solutions from a broader perspective.

Towards better food security and sustainable food systems 

The FoodLeader project consists of three pillars, including infrastructure, teaching capacity and applying learning for societal outreach. In the first pillar, modern laboratory equipment for teaching and research purposes will be acquired to the Universities of Nairobi and Lúrio. Additionally, digital tools for collecting food consumption data will be developed. In the second part, this equipment will be integrated into teaching and teachers will be trained to use it.

The third part will involve working with local schools and developing practical teaching. Nutrition and food science students will collect food samples and food consumption data for analysis. Based on the results, they develop measures and local solutions for school feeding programmes in collaboration with the schools. It is hoped that this collaboration will expand and become a permanent part of the universities' societal impact, with researchers contributing to improving the quality and safety of school meals based on scientific knowledge. Involving students in this development will enhance their capacity to become experts who can apply scientific knowledge to policy-making and practical solutions for sustainable food systems. 

The FoodLeader project has received 990 000 euro in funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Higher Education Partnership Programme. The programme supports cooperation projects between higher education institutions in Finland and the developing world. The projects support the higher education institutions as they develop their subject-specific, methodological, educational and administrative capacity. The programme is funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and administered by the Finnish National Agency for Education.

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