Home-grown school feeding: promoting local production systems diversification through nutrition sensitive agriculture
Home-grown school feeding: promoting local production systems diversification through nutrition sensitive agriculture
Samrat Singh 0
Meenakshi Fernandes 0
0 Partnership for Child Development, School of Public Health, Imperial College London , Norfolk Place, London W2 1NY , UK
1 Samrat Singh
The consumption of some non-staple crops such as legumes and dark, green leafy vegetables can address common deficiencies in key nutrients such as vitamin A and iron; however, limited markets and supply chain development impede their production and accessibility to consumers. This study investigates the pathways to promote agricultural production and dietary diversity for a local market intervention called Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF). School feeding menus from 24 districts across 10 regions in Ghana during the 2014-15 school year were analysed in terms of food groups and several individual foods. The menus were then compared with food groups produced by households during the past year or consumed in the past seven days using data collected from a household survey. Greater inter-food group diversity in the menus was associated with higher production levels for tubers and dark, leafy green vegetables in the South and cereals in the North. A correspondence between the frequency in which a food group appeared in a menu and the share of households who consumed foods from the food group was also noted. Key issues, such as optimizing supply chains, enabling farm linkages and supporting diverse nutrient rich food groups, that underlie the success of Home-Grown School Feeding and other agricultural policies with similar goals of promoting production and dietary diversity are highlighted through commodity specific examples. The findings of this study may help strengthen operational linkages between agriculture production and nutrition for HGSF and other similar interventions.
Production diversity; Dietary diversity; Sustainable food systems; Policy approaches; Structured demand; Sub-Saharan Africa
Evidence suggests that the mono-culturization of agriculture
production towards staple foods-based systems in developing
countries has crowded out the production of other food groups
such as legumes and vegetables
(Kataki 2002; Pingali 2015)
This may have serious implications for the availability and
consumption of non-staple food groups and thereby common
deficiencies in nutrients such as protein, iron and vitamin A
(Negin et al. 2009; DeClerck et al. 2011)
. Policies that
promote diversity of food supply may help to rectify the
imbalance in such food systems
(Hawkes 2007; Remans et al. 2014;
A growing literature highlights the pathways among agricul
tural production, dietary diversity and nutritional outcomes
which are multiple and context-specific (
Jones et al. 2014
Fanzo et al. 2013). Gender is one critical pathway as women
exhibit a high level of participation in the production and
marketing of some non-staple, nutrient-rich crops, including
neglected and underutilised species
(Mayes et al. 2011;
Malapit and Quisumbing 2015)
. Women are also more likely
to undertake regular management activities such as weeding,
cleaning and grading which are more common for vegetables
(Joshi et al. 2006). Other studies have found that smallholder
farmers are more likely to be engaged in production and
marketing of non-staple foods including vegetables and legumes
(Joshi et al. 2006; IFAD 2014)
. However, significant challenges
adversely affect market conditions and integration for non-staple
(Pingali et al. 2005; Barett 2008)
. These include
high transaction costs linking production with value chains,
limited incentives for farmers in terms of prices
(Joshi et al. 2003)
and the perishable nature of some non-staple food groups such
as fruits and vegetables
(FAO 1981; McKee 2012)
Realigning macro-level agricultural policies, such as those
linked to output and input support, is important to create a
more balanced incentive structure. However, this alone is
not sufficient. Over time, the bias favouring the production
of staple crops has, as cause and effect, deeply influenced
household level production and consumption behaviour with
implications for diets and nutrition
(Ecker and Quaim 2011)
Diversifying production to non-staple foods would require a
systematic and sustained localized approach to incrementally
build viable market conditions. In community-based peasant
farming which is predominant in most parts of sub-Saharan
Africa, market systems are primarily atomistic based around a
few communities. Thus, conventional broad based market
support instruments which are premised on well-integrated
markets, and incentive responses designed around staples are
likely to have limited impact. Localized market interventions
can potentially address some of these challenges through
strengthened commodity-specific value chains. One such
intervention is ‘Home Grown School Feeding’ (HGSF) through
which locally-sourced meals are provided daily to children
attending schools. In 2014, at least 47 countries in
Saharan Africa were implementing school feeding programmes, of which at least 20 were HGSF or similar models.
Key principles of HGSF include local food procure
ment, smallholder engagement, nutrient-rich and diverse
foods, and regularity in meal provision
(Gelli et al.
. When appropriately designed, school meal menus
can help ensure an effective application of these principles.
Several studies have illustrated the potential impact of
HGSF to create demand for cereals and other staple foods,
leading to increased farmer incomes and improved
Masset and Gelli 2013
; Sumberg and
Wheeler 2011; Gelli et al. 2010). However, the potential for HGSF to support diversified food systems has been less explored.
This study investigates how HGSF may support diversified
food systems in the context of Ghana. The Ghana School
Feeding Programme (GSFP) provided daily meals to an
estimated 1.7 million children, or about one out of every three
primary school children in 216 districts of the country during
the 2014–15 school year
(GSFP Secretariat 2015)
. Meals were
based on weekly menus that districts develop each school year
and that may be adapted to the local context in terms of
agricultural production, food culture and preferences (Parish and
Gelli 2015). Specifically, this study presents a framework,
relating school meals to local production and consumption
patterns, and applies it to a set of 24 districts located across
Ghana. The investigation considers food groups as well as
some specific commodities to illustrate how HGSF may
support diversified food systems through different pathways
including women’s empowerment, market integration and
supply chain management.
2 Materials and methods
The analysis draws from two sources of data. The first source
was household survey data collected from the same 24
districts that included information on household dietary
consumption and agricultural production. These data were
collected as part of a baseline survey for an impact evaluation
of the GSFP
(Gelli et al. 2016)
. The impact evaluation sought
to assess the impact of the programme on a wide range of child
and community outcomes including education, nutrition and
(Gelli et al. 2016)
. In total, the evaluation focused
on a set of 60 districts in Ghana out of a total of 216 districts.
HGSF was introduced in 30 of these districts while the other
30 districts served as a control group. Two comparable public
primary schools and the surrounding communities were
selected from each district.1 Household listings were compiled
in each enumeration area (EA) by the survey team supervisors
assisted by community leaders. The list of all households with
a child aged five to 17 years of age in each EA constituted the
sampling frame from which participating households were
selected at random for the household questionnaire. About
20 to 25 households were selected from each community for
the survey. The questionnaires were administered by teams of
enumerators from the University of Ghana in the local
language. The responses were input and cleaned at the University
The second source of data was a set of school feeding menus
from 24 districts from the HGSF arm of the impact evaluation.
Menus were developed using a tool known as the School Meals
(Partnership for Child Development 2014; Fernandes
et al. 2016)
. The tool supports the design of menus that link
dishes with the types and quantities (in grams) of each
individual food. Menus were used in district schools that participated
in the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) during the
2014–15 school year. But menus for the remaining districts in
the home-grown school feeding arm of the impact evaluation
could not be obtained for several reasons. For example, the
school sampled for the evaluation may not have offered school
feeding or a menu was not developed for the district with the
School Meals Planner tool. In the HGSF context ‘local’ can be
defined in different ways depending on the context (Sumberg
and Sabates-Wheeler 2011). For the analysis presented in this
study, ‘local’ is defined as the district according to governance
structure in Ghana. For each menu, the number of individual
foods from each food group, as well as the quantity of each food
group in grams was calculated. Inter-food group diversity was
defined as the number of food groups. Intra-food group
diversity was defined as the number of unique individual foods in a
1 Data from the Ghana Education Service is available from the website: http://
www.ghanaeducationdata.com/ (link downloaded November 28, 2015).
2.1 GSFP menus
Individual foods in the menus were classified into the
following five food groups: 1) cereals; 2) tubers; 3) legumes
(including nuts and seeds); 4) dark, green leafy vegetables and 5)
(Kennedy et al. 2013)
. Dark, green leafy
vegetables, including individual foods such as cassava and
cocoyam leaves, were defined as a separate food group apart
from vegetables, given their nutritional value, in particular
non-haem iron and vitamin A, as well as their prominence in
the Ghanaian diet. Fruits were not analysed due to their
minimal inclusion in the menus. Common cereals included rice
and maize, while cassava and cocoyam were tubers that
featured prominently. Legumes that appeared frequently in the
menus included cowpeas,2 groundnut3 and melon seeds, while
tomatoes and okra were common ‘other vegetables’.
2.2 Household survey data
Survey data were collected from a sample of households in the
same 24 districts between June and August 2013
(Gelli et al.
. The data included a total of 1009 households who
reported their dietary consumption in the past seven days. Of
these, 621 were farming households who reported
undertaking any agricultural production in the past year. Survey
enumerators asked households to specify which individual foods
they produced and consumed using a predefined list. There
were differences among the individual foods included in the
production and consumption list. The agricultural production
list included 42 individual foods as compared to 59 individual
foods for household food consumption. The responses were
classified into the same five food groups defined for the menu
analysis in Section 2.1. Households could also provide open
responses for both the production and consumption questions.
These responses were reviewed and classified into the five
food groups when applicable. In most cases the individual
foods were classified into one food group. However, cassava
2 Also known as white beans in Ghana.
3 Also known as peanuts.
and cocoyam were included in both the tubers and dark, green
leafy vegetables food groups even though they may have only
been cultivated for the tuber.
A descriptive analysis by food groups and the selected indi
vidual food items was then undertaken for the menu and
household survey data from the set of districts in Ghana.
The share of households in the district that were producing
or consuming foods from each food groups was calculated.
Separate indicators were constructed for four individual,
nonstaple foods that were commonly featured in the menus and
that were also included in both the agricultural production and
diet modules of the household survey. These individual food
items were groundnut and cowpeas (classified in the legumes
food group), okra and tomatoes (both classified in the other
vegetables food group). The statistical significance of
differences in production and consumption between Northern and
Southern Ghana were assessed for analyses using the house
hold survey data, but not the menu data due to the limited
In addition, a simulation was undertaken to estimate the
overall potential national market demand from the GSFP for
each of the five food groups based on information from the 24
district menus. The simulation assumed that all schools
participating in the GSFP followed a menu from one of the 24
study districts. GSFP schools located in regions that included
only one of the study districts were assumed to follow the
menu from that study district. In other regions with multiple
study districts, the minimum and maximum per-child quantity
of each food group from the set of menus provided the basis
for lower and upper bound estimates used, respectively. These
estimates for the weekly quantities of each food group per
child were multiplied by the number of children enrolled in
schools participating in the GSFP in that region, and the
number of school weeks in the 2014–15 school year, which was
provided by the head office for the programme (GFSP
10 or more times
4.1 Menu analysis
The menus included the names of dishes prepared each school
day (Monday through Friday) for children attending the
school as well as the individual foods and quantities needed
for each dish. For example, in one district, children may
receive bean stew and plain rice on Monday. The menu would
list this dish as well as each of the individual foods in the dish
such as beans, rice, onion and tomatoes as well as the quantity
in grams per child. Caterers were instructed to purchase
sufficient amounts of the individual foods every week based on the
quantities provided in the menu and the number of children
attending the school. In addition to purchasing the individual
foods, the caterers prepared the meals every day for the school
children. The meals were prepared on the school premises or
brought to the school from another locale.
All 24 menus included all five of the food groups defined
by the study. Figure 2a presents the intra-food group diversity
of the menus overall, while differences between Northern and
Southern Ghana are presented in Fig. 2b. The greatest intra
10 or more times
Fig. 2. a Intra-food diversity in
menus, overall. Notes: Sample
was 24 district menus from
Ghana. The definition of food
groups follows Kennedy et al.
2013. b Inter-food diversity in
menus, by geographic region.
Notes: Sample was 24 district
menus from Ghana. The
definition of food groups follows
Kennedy et al. 2013
group diversity was observed for other vegetables. Eight
menus had four to six individual foods from this group.
Legumes had the next highest intra-group diversity. Two
menus had four to six individual foods from this group.
Most menus (88%) included two cereals, and one or two tu
bers. More than half of menus (58%) did not include dark,
leafy green vegetables. More individual foods from the cereals
and legumes food groups were included in menus from
Northern Ghana, while more individual foods from the tubers, dark, leafy green vegetables and other vegetable food categories were included in menus from Southern Ghana.
4.2 Household survey analysis
Table 1 presents findings from the household survey analysis
regarding agricultural production. Cereals were the most
commonly grown with 88% of farming households producing at
least one individual food in the food group. Other vegetables
were the least commonly reported (10%). Cereals and
legumes were more likely to be produced in Northern Ghana
(p < 0.001). Tubers and dark, green leafy vegetables were
more commonly grown in Southern Ghana (p < 0.001).
Table 2 presents findings for household food consumption
as reported in the survey. Almost all households reported
consumption of cereals in the past seven days (99%), and all
households reported consumption of other vegetables.
Consumption of legumes and tubers were lower than
consumption of cereals (80 and 78% respectively), but still high
relative to the consumption of dark, leafy green vegetables
(37%). Differences by geographic region mirrored those
found for agricultural production. Legume consumption was
more common in the North as compared with the South (93
versus 64%, p < 0.001). Consumption of tubers and dark,
leafy green vegetables were more prevalent in the South as
compared with the North (95 and 70% versus 64 and 11%
respectively, p < 0.001).
4.3 Individual food analysis using menus and survey
The inclusion of certain food groups and individual foods in
menus may strengthen their value chains and reduce
postharvest losses, particularly those that are more commonly
cultivated by smallholder farmers and women. This section
presents findings from the individual food analysis for groundnut
and cowpeas (classified in the legumes food group), okra and
tomatoes (both classified in the other vegetables food group).
Groundnut is a major source of protein in the Ghanaian diet
and production is mainly undertaken by smallholder farmers
with less than two hectares of arable land (Angelucci and
Bazzucchi 2013). Cowpea is another important legume in
Ghana. Most of the production and marketing activities for
this crop in sub-Saharan Africa are undertaken by women
. In a pilot study from Northern Ghana,
at least 40% of additional income from improved cowpea
production in Ghana accrued directly to women farmers
. Okra is traditionally a rainy
season crop that is cultivated by women and may be grown in
mixed cropping with other vegetables
(Kumar et al. 2010)
The production of tomatoes is characterised by weak market
access along the value chain and scattered small farm
Figure 3 presents results from the menu analysis and survey
data for these four individual foods. All the menus included
cowpeas, while okra, fresh tomatoes and groundnut were
commonly featured. Large regional differences were noted in
several instances. Groundnut was more common in menus from
the North (90% versus 50% in the South). Production and
consumption of both groundnut and cowpeas were higher in
the North (P < 0.001), which is consistent with findings for the
overall legume food group results presented in Section 4.2. In
total 20 out of the 24 menus featured okra and tomatoes, which
were commonly consumed by households. The share of
households producing these crops, however, was low. Although not
Sample limited to farming households in the 24 study districts of Ghana. Survey data collected in Summer 2013.
Food groups defined as per
. SD = standard deviation. T-tests used to assess North/South
differences: * p < 0.05, **, p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001
a Includes Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions
b All other seven regions of Ghana
Overall (n = 630)
Northa (n = 452)
Southb (n = 178)
Overall (n = 1055)
Sample limited to farming and non-farming households in the 24 study districts of Ghana. Survey data collected in
Summer 2013. Food groups defined as per
. SD = standard deviation. T-tests used to assess North/
South differences: * p < 0.05, **, p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001
a Includes Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions
b All other seven regions of Ghana
included in the analysis, 88% of menus included processed
tomatoes which were in tinned or paste form.
was higher in Southern Ghana, reflecting the greater
prominence of these food groups in the menus in the South.
4.4 HGSF market demand for diverse crops
Figure 4 presents the estimated market demand of the GSFP
for the five food groups during the 2014–15 school year. The
decomposition by region reflects the distribution of enrolment
in the GSFP across the country. About 32% of children
eligible for GSFP meals in the school year were in Northern
Ghana. The greatest quantities were generated for the cereals
food group (24,376 to 32,306 metric tonnes). The quantities
generated for legumes (11,532 to 15,588 metric tonnes) and
tubers (11,235 to 17,279 metric tonnes) were each about half
of the amount of cereals. The demand for other vegetables was
also sizeable (8641 to 12,531 metric tonnes). The simulated
demand for dark, leafy green vegetables and other vegetables
Institutionalized procurement that is decentralized to the local
level through programmes such as HGSF may induce general
and commodity-specific corrective measures to promote
diversified food production and consumption and may specifically
benefit smallholder farmers and women
HGSF, school menus provide a critical interface to strengthen
linkages among agricultural production, markets and diets
(Fernandes et al., forthcoming). It is important to bear in mind
that for HGSF to effectively induce these changes in the market,
the programme must include specific mechanisms to enable
smallholder farmer participation and linkages to input support
services. Given that smallholder farmers are highly risk averse,
Fig. 3 Share of households
producing and consuming
individual foods, and inclusion of
individual foods in menus, by
region. Notes: Sample limited to
farming and non-farming
households in the 24 study districts of
Ghana. North includes Northern,
Upper East and Upper West
regions while South includes the
other seven regions of Ghana.
Survey data collected in Summer
2013. Food groups defined as per
. T-tests used to
assess North/South differences in
survey data results: * p < 0.05, **,
p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001
20% 30% 40% 50%
Share of households or menus
the structured demand needs to be demonstrably stable over time
to catalyse market participation. It is therefore critical that whilst
fulfilling basic nutrition parameters, menu design in selecting
food should address agro-ecologically suitability and financial
This study identifies and explores the pathways through
which HGSF menus may provide an interface to promote
agricultural production diversity and dietary diversity in
Ghana. All menus included four or all five of the studied food
groups, while intra-food group diversity was high for legumes
and other vegetables. More inter-food group diversity for
tubers and dark, leafy green vegetables in the South was
reflected in a higher share of households producing these
foods in this region as compared to the North. Conversely,
the greater diversity of cereals in menus from the North was
reflected in higher production levels of this food group in the
region. A strong correspondence was also noted between
menus and consumption patterns. The production and
consumption of legumes was higher in the North, however, this
regional difference was not reflected in the menus. Green leafy
vegetables were notably scarce in menus; over 70% and 30%
of the menus in the North and South, respectively, did not
include any items from this group. Whilst this again reflects
production patterns, the overall low inclusion of items from
this food group in the menus may be attributed to the very
short shelf life and low weight to volume ratio.
The overall market demand for HGSF as a percentage of
national production may not appear to be significant. For
example, the total GSFP demand for legumes based on current
menus according to the simulation results in Fig. 4 would
constitute 2.83% of legume (cowpea and groundnut)
production in Ghana in 2012/13 (Food Balance Sheet 2012/2013,
SIRD, MoFA). However, the HGSF procurement platform
and systems may strengthen supply chains and market
integration for different commodities. Where appropriate HGSF
procurement can help create shorter supply chains through
more direct farm linkages with Farmer Based Organizations
(FBOs) for certain commodities ensuring better prices for
farmers and improved value for money.
Cowpea provides a useful illustration for this proposition.
While the production of cowpeas (a legume) is concentrated in
Northern Ghana, all menus studied included this commodity
and similar quantities were used in both the North and the
South. Market integration for cowpea in Ghana is known to
be particularly weak with most of the price benefit accruing to
intermediaries with wholesalers holding a monopoly on
storage to the detriment of both producers and consumers
et al. 2013)
. Through the institutionalized and predictable
demand presented by schools in Southern Ghana, HGSF may
have implications for the cowpea supply chain. One
mechanism may be through direct forward contracts on a school term
or annual basis between school caterers in the South with
identified Farmer Based Organizations in the cowpea
producing regions in the North. Roundtable negotiations between
school feeding caterers and FBOs could support the
development of such contracts
(Gelli et al. 2016)
capacity building and technology interventions that strengthen
farmer-based organization and smallholder participation may
help reduce overall fixed transaction costs generally and for
(Gelli et al. 2016)
. It has been suggested
that the aggregate supply response to induced changes in
transactions costs are likely to exceed those of other policies
such as trade and price
Similarly, given the high prevalence of tomato in all school
menus, HGSF procurement could be used to strengthen value
chains through enhanced linkages with smallholder farmers
and localized procurement at the district level. Processing of
tomatoes may also serve to reduce post-harvest loss and
yeararound usage of locally-grown tomatoes. Tomato production
is reported to be highly seasonal leading to significant imports
from neighbouring countries. Most of the tomato paste is also
imported from the European Union and China
Tomato paste or canned tomatoes were present in 88% of menus studied, often in conjunction with fresh tomatoes.
Okra presents another interesting example of the potential role
of HGSF in driving commodity specific value chain. It
featured in more than half of menus, which is substantial given its
highly seasonal availability limited to five months a year and
post-harvest losses estimated to be up to 34%
(Affognon et al.
2015; Kitinoja 2010)
The study also highlights several critical issues related to
HGSF and other agricultural policies seeking to enhance local
procurement. HGSF policies often emphasize the need to
procure from smallholder farmers, but in many countries
including Ghana there is no uniform policy to define and identify
. In the absence of such
definitions and reliable compliance mechanisms, a broad
channelling of procurement towards smallholder farmers can
be achieved through appropriate commodity selection as
certain food groups, such as legumes and dark green leafy
vegetables, which are more suitable to small farm production.
Finally, some major limitations of this study need to be em
phasized. The small samples in terms of the menus and the
number of respondents to the household survey did not allow
for analysis at the district level. Instead, the analysis was
undertaken at the regional level (North versus South). Data from only
one point in time was available and changes over time due to the
HGSF intervention could not be assessed. As the food items
reported in the production module and the household food
consumption module were not identical, the focus of the analysis
was on food groups. In addition, analysis was conducted for four
individual foods which were common in the menus and
included in the list of possible survey responses for both production
and consumption. Given the limitations mentioned above, an
important caveat here is that these findings should not be
extrapolated to other similar interventions and individual commodities
without a more granular commodity-specific analysis across
production and marketing. Despite these limitations, the
investigation does provide a foundation for future analyses, as well as
for the study of variation by community and household
characteristics. In particular, this study may shed light on how HGSF
menus and other similar interventions may strengthen linkages
between production and dietary diversity at the local level over
time, as well as reduce post-harvest losses and create incentives
for on-farm storage.
Compliance with ethical standards All procedures
performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with
the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research
committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or
comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies
with animals performed by any of the authors.
Ethical standards disclosure The household survey was conducted
according to the guidelines laid down in the Declaration of Helsinki and all
procedures involving human subjects were approved by the University of
Ghana Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR)
Institutional Review Board. Consent to voluntarily participate in the study
was sought from respondents after giving them general information about
the study, details of data to be collected, risks and discomforts, benefits,
confidentiality and their right to leave the research at any point in time.
They were also given contact details of one researcher for further
information. Participants signed a consent form to indicate such, or made a
cross to indicate consent if they could not sign.
Conflict of interest This work was financially supported by the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation. The authors report no conflicts of interest.
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Samrat Singh is a research
associate in food policy in the School of
Public Health at Imperial College
London. Samrat is a lawyer by
training and has over 8 years of
experience working at the interface of
law, policy and economics and
involving governments, international
organizations and the private sector
in South Asia and sub-Saharan
Africa (SSA). His main area of
interest is agriculture market systems
and trade with a focus on small farm
economies in developing countries.
Meenakshi Fernandes i s a
Senior Research Advisor at
t h e P a r t n e r s h i p f o r C h i l d
Development, based at Imperial
College London where her role
is to support research activities
related to improvement of the
quality and effectiveness of school
health and nutrition programmes
in low- and middle-income
countries. She has previously worked
on food security and nutrition at
the United Nations World Food
Programme based in Rome, Italy
and Abt Associates based in
Cambridge, USA. She holds a Ph.D. in Policy Analysis from the
Pardee RAND Graduate School and a B.A. in Economics from the
University of Chicago.
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