Open, transparent school procurement process giving voice to communities


The Kenya Home Grown School Feeding Programme gives a powerful voice to communities to create transparent, more inclusive processes. That was the conclusion at the end of a two-day, multi-national conference hosted by SNV’s Procurement Governance for Home Grown School Feeding (PG-HGSF) project.

"This programme tackles procurement challenges that will ultimately allow smallholder farmers to connect to existing markets - government-financed school feeding - thereby linking local economic development and food security" said Madeleine Meek. Meek is an associate programme officer with BMGF’s Agricultural Development Team focused on the East Africa region.

Meek spoke at the PG-HGSF learning event that took place in Nairobi. The event was attended by farmers, teachers, school administration, parents, agriculture and education ministry representatives, and private grain traders from across Kenya’s arid and semi-arid regions where the PG-HGSF project is in place. The event also brought in PG-HGSF staff from SNV Mali and SNV Ghana, countries that also have state-run home grown school feeding programmes, like in Kenya.  

Kenya’s Home Grown School Feeding Programme developed as the UN’s World Food Programme started decreasing the provision of school meals in food deficit areas and systematically transferred those responsibilities to national governments. In turn, national leaders transferred them to more local levels. Yet with all their good intentions, Ghana, Mali, and Kenya realised a weakness—not enough transparency. 

SNV received a five-year grant from BMGF to work from the farm to the child in opening up the process and educating people along the school feeding value chain about their rights and responsibilities. The national learning event marked the mid-way point in the three-country programme SNV is implementing. 

The learning event was framed around two questions. First, how can the procurement process support smallholder farmer access to Home Grown School Feeding Programme market opportunities? Second, how can social accountability and transparent governance processes stimulate strong and efficient service delivery to local communities?

“We are talking about information, participation, and action, in each of the three project objectives,” noted Eliana Vera, manager for the three PG-HGSF programmes. “To have smallholders included as suppliers in the school feeding market, an emerging and significantly growing market, we need them to have clear information and access to the procurement process; we need them to have the right business orientation to competitively participate; and we need action, especially on the part of decision-makers, to adjust the procurement processes so they become more inclusive. 

“It’s not always about corruption when we talk about governments and how open or inclusive they are” Vera noted. “Rather, it can be about the existence and access to information. In PG-HGSF, we’re helping public officials—and citizens—make government systems more transparent and inclusive.” 

“Through the social audit interventions, we are helping public officials—and citizens—access factual, timely information that helps them provide relevant information and base their discussions on facts rather than on suspicion and innuendo. This is creating a more transparent and participatory assessment of the health and performance of school feeding programmes, especially as they relate to smallholder participation,” she said. 

About 70 people attended the learning event, and four panels included everyone up and down the school feeding supply chain, discussing lessons learnt, as well as challenges to tackle moving forward. 

Procurement governance was addressed at the school level and included smallholder farmers. Experiences were shared about preparing farmers for the bidding process and how to increase their participation. Making procurement more inclusive and transparent was also discussed. Topics shared included how communities were encouraging parents and other citizens as well as school staff to participate, and the significance the community plays in ensuring school feeding procurement processes are transparent. 

In addition to emphasising the need for community members and parents of children in school feeding programmes to take ownership of the procurement process, it was also highlighted that the officials and governments needed to be held accountable to ensure the programmes could function smoothly. 

From Ghana and Mali to Kenya, participants said the project is a process—just like the one used to grow, buy, and cook the maize and beans for schoolchildren: To date, the SNV initiative has ploughed the fields, planted the seeds, and helped nurture growth. But, school and community leaders must also ensure continual training so the next generation of teachers and parents maintain an open, transparent, and inclusive system. 

Meanwhile, officials need to review and amend laws that support open, transparent government bidding systems. They must also ensure those laws are enforced across the board. 

“At the Foundation, we say that all lives have equal value,” Meek told the audience. “Your work in the field is helping make this a reality.”