News Archive

posted 03/17/04

Kenyan AIDS Orphans Pass National Exam with the Help of School Lunch
Earth Institute scientist champions school lunch as one way to fight global poverty

Students from the Bar Sauri Primary School in the village of Yala, Nyanza Province, Kenya. All thirty-three of the students who sat for the national exams passed, with the help of a local school lunch program. Image credit: Lisa Dreier

At the Bar Sauri Primary School in the village of Yala, Nyanza Province Kenya earlier this month a remarkable thing happened: all the 33 pupils who sat for the national exams passed. "The school took second best position in the district," reported Bashir Jama, Regional Coordinator for the World Agroforestry Center ( www.ICRAF.org ) and member of the Hunger Task Force. More remarkable still, half of the winners are AIDS orphans. The headmistress attributed this remarkable success in part to the school lunch program she initiated through voluntary contributions of farmers in the community.

As soon as Jama heard this news, he reported it to Dr. Pedro Sanchez, Director of the Tropical Agriculture Program at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and co-chair of the Hunger Task Force of the United Nations' Millennium Development Project. (Click here to view recent report.)

"The power of school lunches supported by local farmers is really catching fire," says Sanchez. "The Hunger Task Force strongly supports this great idea" in combination with other feeding programs that target mothers and very young children. It is satisfying, Sanchez added, not only to know that AIDS orphans in Kenya are passing the national exam, but to have further proof of the value of locally supported school lunches.

Other strategies championed by the Hunger Task Force to reduce global hunger, according to the Task Force's Interim Report, include restoring budgetary priority to agriculture as an engine of economic growth, empowering women, and promoting community-based hunger-reduction actions to boost agricultural production, nutrition, rural markets and infrastructure, and environmental sustainability.

The farmers in Yala who contributed the free lunches had been able to dramatically increase their crop yields by using innovative new agroforestry techniques. By using small trees as fertilizer, the farmers had increased their maize yield by two to four times, thus producing a surplus that could help support local school lunches. The donation of a cow to produce milk for the schoolchildren also helped augment the students' nutrition - and ability to learn. As Jama reported, "Best subject was science and the school's cow contributed!"

Sanchez and a delegation from the Earth Institute and the Millennium Project's Hunger Task Force will be visiting the Bar Sauri Primary School in April as part of the Hunger Task Force's work to produce recommendations on actions that can be taken to greatly reduce global hunger.

The delegation will then attend a Food Security conference in Uganda, sponsored by the International Food Policy Research Institute (www.ifpri.org), the first week in April.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor.