Report Card: India’s Midday Meal Scheme

Do you know the best way to get a country out of poverty? The answer is simple: Education! However, getting underprivileged children to school is a big challenge government and nonprofits are trying to overcome. Providing free education was not enough to attract underprivileged to schools, as parents rather have their children work so they have one less mouth to fill. Trying to solve this problem, the government decided to provide schools with mid-day meals. And it worked wonderfully!

The program was originally launched in 1925 and gradually implemented in a few other states, it took the government decades to make the Midday Meal Scheme national in 1995.

The idea was simple, help underprivileged children get a basic education and at the same time provide food at schools as an incentive to curb absenteeism and dropouts. In addition, this scheme combined a second goal: the simultaneous enhancement of the nutritional levels among children. Thus, making this Midday Meal Scheme the largest nutrition program in the world.

According to reports, today 87% of government schools implement the scheme across India. It represents almost 120 million meals every day for supported costs of 2 billion dollars a year with additional funding coming from state governments. Yes, it’s huge!

The report card says it all. School attendance rates improved, sometimes by as much as 10%, combined with a decline of dropouts. Overall, it “improved nutritional intakes by reducing the daily protein deficiency of a primary school student by 100%, the calorie deficiency by almost 30%, and the daily iron deficiency by nearly 10%” according to Farzana Afridi in the Journal of development Economics. It is more than satisfactory as 1.3 million children die every year in India prematurely because of malnutrition.

However, the journey has been bumpy for the scheme. The program failed with the hygiene and safety standards in specific areas. In 2013, 23 children aged from 4 to 12 years old died in Bihar because they ate a contaminated meal provided by the Midday Meal Scheme. According to media reports, police investigations revealed that oil used to cook the meals was stored in a former pesticide barrel. The same year in the same state, 50 children had to be hospitalized after dead lizard and worms contaminated their meal.

Human error or something else? According to reports, one of the reasons for the fallout was that the government could not afford to invest in hygienic standards everywhere. The limited financial
resources lagged in providing kitchens, storage facilities, utensils, set up effective quality controls and supply chain. In some cases, the government had no choice than to give the responsibility to teachers to spend time in the kitchen to prepare the meals, a role that is clearly not theirs. In some cases, nonprofits stepped in.

Government — NGO, a win-win partnership

The delivery of mid-day meal scheme may be improved by collaborating with private entities and non-government organizations. NGOs were well implanted in their region, they are smaller entities making possible an efficient management and control quality, and can enjoy of higher financial resources as they can enjoy money from private or corporate donors as well as from the government as part of the contract. For instance

For instance nonprofits like Annamrita is the perfect example of such a partnership. Every day, devoted trained cooks wake up at 3.am to prepare quality meals in 20 centralized hi-tech kitchens including heavy-weight vegetable-cutting, potato-peeling machines, steam cookers for fuel efficiency, and needless to say, with very high standard of hygiene. The meals are specifically designed, to both, provide the nutritional requirements and to be adapted to local tastes with a variety of elements in order that the children don’t get bored. Annamrita’s midday meals cater to over 12 lakh children every day.