Food insecurity and ‘Twin track strateg

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A household is said to be food insecure when the people in it live in fear of hunger and starvation. Food insecurity affects millions around the world and children, the most vulnerable members of society, are the greatest affected it. Caught in the clutches of poverty and living a hand to mouth existence, many survive on less than one meal a day. While education may be the surest ticket out of the many dehumanizing and abject conditions faced by these children, improving their health and physical well being is the first, most important step to securing their future. Children deprived of the necessary nutrients due to food insecurity fall prey to malnutrition, stunted physical growth and reduced cognitive abilities, all of which eventually hamper their education.
The problem of malnutrition faced by the world’s children is very severe. One out of four – roughly 146 million – in developing countries is underweight and although India is growing economically, this has not been translated to reducing malnutrition among children in the country. In fact, ‘one half of all rural children [in India] are underweight for their age – roughly the same proportion as in 1992.’ On a global scale, approximately 27-28% of all children in developing countries are said to be underweight or stunted, with South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounting for the bulk of the deficit.

While it is important to develop long range programs that improve employability through promoting education, it is also equally necessary to implement schemes that directly provide children with food to improve their health and well being.
To combat this problem of hunger, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development came up with a practical ‘twin track solution’.
• Track one involves the creation of employment opportunities that increase the productivity and incomes of the underprivileged.
• Track two strategies provide direct access to food that will improve the health of the malnourished, increasing their well being and, therefore, their productivity.

‘Food for education’ programs, such as that implemented by Akshaya Patra, address both the hunger and education issues at once.

Reducing hunger is of primary importance in the successful accomplishment of all the MDGs, as it is the root cause of suffering that exacerbates the poverty cycle. A hungry child cannot focus on anything else because of its need for food. In order to truly help a child, therefore, we must first ensure that the child is well nourished and healthy.

But this is not enough to bring about effective change. Children must also be educated in order to break through the cycle of poverty. Food insecure, impoverished families cannot afford food, let alone school fees, and depend on children to work for their meals. In such cases, programs like the mid-day meal scheme have a big impact on the child. By providing lunch at school, we are not only ensuring the health of the child and encouraging education, but also helping to prevent their necessity to work for food.

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PPP model best suited for implementing Mid day meals

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According to minister of State for Human Resources Development, Govt. of India D Purandeswari, over 13 crore children across the country are receiving benefits from the mid-day meal scheme. But the concern is how well this scheme is working? The planning commission of India, which evaluated the scheme at the ground level found several shortcomings in the implementation of the scheme. As recommendation, the plan panel has suggested that public private partnership will ensure better delivery of services and therefore a better performance of the scheme. Launched in 2005, the school meal programme is one of the most successful programme of govt. of India. It aims to protect children from classroom hunger, increase school enrollment and attendance, check malnutrition and empower underprivileged section of society. The study of the planning commission focused on to assess the extent to which CMDM (cooked mid-day meal), availability of infrastructure for implementation of CMDM, improvement in attendance, retention and nutritional status of children and to assess to the extent to which CMDM has succeeded in achieving the objectives. The study also tried to find out the impact of CMDM on teaching and learning activities in schools. The survey covered 17 states, 48 districts, 480 schools and 4,800 beneficiary students for a period of six years. Some of the findings in the report are: Teachers were found to be actively engaged in implementation of the scheme, which was adversely affecting the teaching process. Pupils spend an average of 9.83 hours a week in washing dishes and utensils in Rajasthan schools. About 75% schools running mid-day meal scheme have no access to drinking water in states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkand, Maharashtra,Meghalaya and West Bengal. Students too spend considerable time in washing utensils that was adversely affecting the learning process. Average time spent by students in washing utensils was 15 minutes (Jammu & Kashmir) to 9.83 hrs (Rajasthan) in a week in the sample selected states. Rajasthan was at the forefront with nearly 50% found involved in washing utensils, closely followed by West Bengal (45.1%) and Arunachal Pradesh (38.14%). According to the study, the scheme has not even been able to dispense the “economic reason” which prevents children from coming to school, which was its main objective. As per the data collected, only 23% from SC and 13% from ST category have been benefiting from the scheme. About one fifth of the beneficiaries in Bihar, Rajasthan and West Bengal reported that they do not get adequate meals at school. While, a large number of students expressed satisfaction about quality of meal in Rajasthan (80%) but other states like Bihar about 72% of the beneficiaries have responded that the quality of food is poor and 77% say that they are not satisfied. Experts too support the planning commission’s recommendation on PPP mode as one of the best model for better service and performance of the scheme. According to D. Jagannatha Rao, former bureaucrat and renowned educationalist who authored a book on Elementary Education in India: Status, Issues and Concerns argues that the Akshaya Patra Program bears an eloquent testimony to the efficacy of successful collaborative efforts between governments and the foundation. The inherent strength that Akshaya Patra stresses is that willingness to work in remote areas, ability to set in motion a participatory process in identification of the needs, the design and implementation of programmes, the readiness to mobilize and use local resources, effective service delivery and freedom to innovate.

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