Free School lunch was universalized in government schools in 2001 and the task is a huge challenge. Not surprisingly, we see many gaps between the intended quality and the actual service. Alarmingly, there are regular reports of food poisoning and other illness; heart-rending stories come from across India. Clearly it is not corporate greed or a ‘foreign hand’ that creates this mess and it is only a matter of time before the nation’s ire is roused over Mid Day Meal Schemes (MDMS) issues!
So where and how do we begin to improve safety, taste and nutrition standards of the MDMS? The most obvious place is the school – better cooking, more supervision, and hygiene! At Plustrust we think this is barking up the wrong tree! We wish to delve deeper, tracing quality issues back to the source.
Food Safety officials who investigated the Maggi issue say that the source of the heavy metal lead in Maggi noodles is most likely soil! The Hindu| Soil May Be The Culprit. This does not of course mitigate other actions like false labels.
We believe that MDMS quality is decided by the quality of major ingredients like rice, wheat and dal. Water quality is the next big determinant and dependent entirely on local supply. Local purchases mere ‘tadka’ cannot make up for poor quality of the bulk ingredients.
MDMS ‘Models’ in Karnataka
There are a few ‘models’ in use for providing school lunches.
- Cooks hired by the school to cook the meals in schools (most prevalent in rural areas)
- Contracts to members of SHGs in a few villages.
- Centralized cooking and distribution by NGO contractors.(e.g. Akshyapatra and Samarthanam most prevalent in urban/suburban settings)
The Decentralized Model
This covers the majority of schools in the system. Major inputs are managed by government through the Civil Supplies Department based on indents placed by the School Education department in each District. The FCI is the source of the grain for the Civil Supplies Department. Contractors take delivery of the supplies form depots and distribute materials to schools every month. Head-teachers take delivery of this grain and store it in the schools. The head master gets perishable items from the local market on a day- to- day basis.
Our exploratory research indicates scope for better efficiency at each stage in this service delivery chain. We now propose to bring together stakeholders directly involved at each point in this supply chain to accurately map activities at each stage and develop efficiency norms for each crucial step.
We believe that all stakeholders have good intentions. We are keen to develop simple tools to monitor the input supply chain up to the school lunch. This will empower them to protect and improve the health and wellbeing of their children.
What we plan to do
- Chemical-free Kitchen Gardens in government Schools. A pilot in 10 government schools from July to September 2015 which will lead to a detailed manual to spread this to other schools
- Action research to develop Value Chain Maps of the supply chain for MDMS. Regular tracking of key parameters to monitor supply of inputs from the central storage points to the school kitchen for six months to develop norms for use by stakeholders.
To Begin With – Rs. 20,000/-
Rs 10,000/- Preparation for a chemical free garden. (Fencing, micro- drip system, soil testing etc)
Rs 10,000/- Preparation of manual for children in Kannada.
Each Month for Six Months – Rs. 12,000/month
Rs. 2,000/- Garden Maintenance costs per month.
Rs. 2,000/- Data collection per school (through trained local volunteers) costs per month.
Rs. 6,000/- Data Analysis and stakeholder consultations per school costs per month.
Rs. 2,000/- Travel costs per school costs per month.
- Developing a Community Knowledge Tool and Process Manual in Kannada which can be shared with other schools in other locations.
- Improvement in vegetable quality and availability.
- Gradual tangible improvement for the lunch in the schools we cover.