The nutrition fallout

GS 2 GOVERNANCE Issues relating to poverty and hunger. Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes.


             The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security.

Contemporary Issue:

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020, released by the FAO, painted a worrying picture, including the impact of COVID-19 on closure of schools and school meals.

  • 116 million hungry children are looking at when we consider the indefinite school closure in India.
  • A real-time monitoring tool estimated , April 2020, the peak of school closures, 369 million children globally were losing out on school meals. (a bulk of whom were in India.)

Hunger and Nutrition:

  • Global Hunger Index (GHI) report for 2020 ranks India at 94 out of 107 countries 
    • behind our neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
    • The index is a combination of indicators of 
      • undernutrition in the population 
      • wasting (low weight for height)
      • stunting (low height for age)
      • mortality in children below five years.
  • We are already far out in terms of achieving the ‘Zero Hunger’ goal, and in the absence of urgent measures to address the problem 
    • through necessary administrative measures
    • their effective delivery(the situation will only worsen.)
  • A report by the International Labour Organization and the UNICEF, on COVID-19 and child labour
    • cautions that unless school services and social security are universally strengthened
    • there is a risk that some children may not even return to schools when they reopen.

Mid Day Meal Program:

  • A mid-day meal in India should provide (mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) guidelines, 2006.):-
    • 450 Kcal of energy
    • a minimum of 12 grams of proteins
    • including adequate quantities of micronutrients like iron, folic acid, Vitamin-A, etc., 
  • This is approximately one-third of the nutritional requirement of the child
    • with all school-going children from classes I to VIII 
    • in government and government-aided schools being eligible.
  • Many research reports, and Joint Review Mission of MDMS, 2015-16 noted 
    • that many children reach school on an empty stomach,
    • making the school’s mid-day meal a major source of nutrition for children
    • particularly those from vulnerable communities.
    • highlight the importance of innovative strategies to improving nutrition quality and food diversity.
  • This was insisted upon by NITI Aayog and the World Food Programme in their report on Food and Nutrition Security in India (2019).
  • Many state governments, like Tamil Nadu and Puducherry introduced innovations to convert MDMS into a Nutritious Meal Programme.

Child Labour:

  • Lack of school meals and functioning schools is the fact that there are reports of children engaging in labour to supplement the fall in family incomes in vulnerable households.
  • The Madras High Court also took cognisance of the issue and asked the Tamil Nadu government 
    • to respond on the subject of how, with schools closed
    • the nutritional needs of children were being fulfilled.

During Pandemic:

  • Many State governments have now initiated dry rations provisioning lieu of school meals.
  • There are still challenges for this to be fulfilled in ensuring last-mile delivery.
  • Even States like Tamil Nadu, with a relatively good infrastructure for the MDMS
    • are unable to serve the mandated ‘hot cooked meal’ during the lockdown for multiple reasons.
  • In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of schools, the Government of India announced 
  • that the usual hot-cooked mid-day meal or an equivalent food security allowance/dry ration would be provided 
    • to all eligible school-going children even during vacation, 
    • to ensure that their immunity and nutrition is not compromised.
  • According to the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI)food grain bulletin
    • the offtake of grains under MDMS from FCI during April and May 2020 was 221.312 thousand tonnes.
      • 60 thousand tonnes, or 22%, lower than the corresponding offtake during April and May, 2019 (281.932 thousand tonnes). 
    • There were 23 States and Union Territories that reported a decline in the grain offtake from FCI in April-May 2020, compared to 2019.
    • The State of Bihar, which lifted 44.585 thousand tonnes in April and May 2019, had no offtake during these two months in 2020.
  • Data and media reports indicate that dry ration distributions are irregular.

Way Forward 

  • Increases awareness among stakeholders.
  • Encourage community participation.
    • free urban canteens or community kitchens for the elderly and others in distress in States like Odisha.
  • Improve infrastructure to store and cook food.
  • Increase budget for meal per child to improve nutritional value and account for inflation.
  • A livelihood model that links local smallholder farmers 
    • with the mid-day meal system for the supply of cereals,vegetables and eggs.
    • meeting protein and hidden hunger needs
    • which could diversify production and farming systems transform rural livelihoods and the local economy
    • fulfill the ‘Atmanirbhar Poshan’ (nutritional self-sufficiency) agenda.
  • Decentralised models and local supply chains.
    • new initiatives such as the School Nutrition (Kitchen) Garden 
    • to provide fresh vegetables for mid-day meals.
  • Hire more staff to plug gaps in the preparation and distribution of meals
  • Introduce better record keeping of the number of meals served per day, items served and nutritional value.


        Ensuring functioning of MDMS during the pandemic period, where children are under threat of nutrition and food insecurity, must be high priority.         

For many of them, that one hot-cooked meal was probably the best meal of the day.

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