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Mid-Day Meals in India

Achievements and Challenges

Brief History
Existed in Tamil Nadu since the 1960s
In 1995, Government of India implemented it as the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education Many states provided only dry rations until 2001 Cooked meals only provided in Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa MG Ramachandran extended midday meals to all primary school in Tamil Nadu

The Right to food case*

On 28 November, 2001 the Supreme Court issued the following order: implement the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every government and government assisted primary school with a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 812 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days
* Officially, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India and Others,Writ Petition (Civil) No 196 of 2001. See www.righttofoodindia.org for more details.

MDM Implementation status in 2003

Source: Drze and Goyal (2003)

Status today
All states provide cooked meals to all primary school children In 2006, 130 million children got cooked food everyday

Costs per child per day

Rs. 2.21 in 2004 Rs. 3.06 in 2006

What students and parents say about the MDM

The school bisi oota is as good as what my mother cooks.
Roopa, a pupil of Standard 4.

My children say they like the food. In fact, they actually like going to school now.
Bhagyamma, a Dalit housewife
Source: Parvathi Menon (2003), Frontline,V20(15).

Enrolment, retention and attendance Nutritional impact

Socialization and Educational benefits

Social benefits (esp. for women) Form of Income support

Enrolment, Attendance and Retention

Enrolment: Big gains, especially for girls and children of other disadvantaged groups (SCs and STs). Attendance and rentention: Limited evidence on improvement but measurement issues make it difficult to capture these effects.

Nutrition: Quantity
Prescribed food quantity
300 grams of grain & 8-12 grams of protein Increased to 450 grams of grain and 12 grams of protein in the 2006 Guidelines

Is this adequate?
Requirements of children aged 5 years are very different from the requirements of children aged 10 years.

Nutrition: Quality
Depends on:
Menu (plain boiled rice) Cooking practices Hygiene conditions (kitchens, drinking water)

Supplement or Complement?
Menu is important e.g., if children are given plain boiled rice at school and parents stop feeding them at home, then there will be a net loss. No clear evidence yet in India, but..

Qualitative Supplement
With the introduction of a varied menu, recent research suggests that improved menus have an impact. Improved menus meet up to 22% of RDA as opposed to 11% where the old menu was served
(Source: Chhindwara Study in Madhya Pradesh, Afridi, 2005)

Socialization and Health benefits

(Eating together)

Overcoming caste discrimination

(Denial of food to Scheduled caste children, Segregated seating, separate food/utensils for children of different castes)

Inculcating hygienic habits

(Washing hands and utensils before and after eating, eating together)

Educational benefits
Impact on learning:
Eliminates classroom hunger - children able to concentrate better as many children would come to school on an empty stomach Makes school environment more fun

Educational benefits
Can be realised if teachers are teaching rather than organizing meals and children are not made to help with cooking
Preparing and distributing MDM to about 60100 children is like managing a wedding lunch every day!
Teacher interviewed by CUTS MDM survey in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan

Realization of benefits depended crucially on adequate infrastructure being in place
Kitchens, utensils for cooking and serving Cooks, helpers, organizers Drinking water, wood for fuel on/near school premises Procurement practices

Importance of infrastructure:
Hygienic cooking not possible without these, esp. water Chances of disruption of regular teaching activities, esp. kitchens and cooks Corruption in the system, in the absence of proper storage facilities

A kitchen in Cuttack district

No kitchens, no cooks, no utensils, no water, when it was operationalised in 2002
Improvements since then
Most schools have water and utensils now Separate kitchens still an issue

Overcoming implementation barriers

Existing cases made learning possible
Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka

Increased political acceptability and popularity

Role of judiciary, media, public mobilization

Overcoming implementation barriers

Role of the judiciary
November 28, 2001 order Supreme Court order on preference to Dalits in appointment of cooks

Role of public mobilization

Action Day (8 April, 2002): Children lining up on streets with empty plates demanding their meals Campaign in Jharkhand: Delegation of children met the Chief Minister

Overcoming implementation barriers

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a central government funded campaign for elementary schooling provided funds for purchase of utensils Money for construction of kitchens provided under another government programme Improved access to drinking water through the Accelerated Drinking Water Supply Scheme

Community Participation
Scattered instances of community
parents contributed towards improving menus, or purchase of utensils Self-help groups In urban areas, involvement of NGOs

Main thrust from the government

Some Future Concerns

Adding a health component: deworming, regular check-ups, micronutrient supplements:
The MDM provides a good opportunity to implement widely accepted national programmes for iron and Vitamin A supplementation. However, tremendous commercial pressure seems to be building up to introduce zinc and other micronutrients. The benefits of these need to be fully established.

Some Future Concerns

Recent reports on pilferage of grain by inflating enrolment records

This presentation was prepared by Reetika Khera for a Food for Education seminar organized by JUNAEB-WFP in Santiago, Chile (11-13 June, 2007). For more information on Indias Mid-Day Meal Scheme, please visit www.righttofoodindia.org.

Photographs and map from Frontline (www.flonet.com), Rama Lakshmi (Washington Post) and Sohail Akbar