Friday, November 14, 2014

Feed a child. Feed our future..

For the past few months, we Indians wake up to renewed hope. There’s a change in the political landscape that is promising a lot. But that’s how we have always been. We are excellent planners. We understand what is happening at the ground level and make laws and policies in such a way the unlawful and unjust activities are curbed and lawful activities are encouraged. 

Of the many problems, we as a country face, one of the critical ones belong to under-nutrition. According to a recent World Bank report titled “Nutrition in India”, India loses a notional figure of approximately $12 Billion in GDP by not adequately feeding a child till the age of 2 years. Don’t read too much into $12B, it’s a notional figure assuming all other economic factors remaining constant / changing based on previous years’ trend. What’s startling is that this problem is not restricted to people in the lower strata of the society. As per the report, only 7% of children born to the upper strata get adequate nutrition! Now that’s a shocking statistic. Which means the wealthiest lot feed their child a lot of stuff which are not necessarily nutritious.

The problem I have mentioned above is of gigantic proportion which needs continuous focus from the government at the centre and state level and will need a long term plan. It needs meticulous planning which I am sure we will do. It will also involve executing the plan right at the grass-root level including compulsory education to new parents about what foods to give at what age and the frequency etc. What I will touch upon, in this post, is a problem within a problem – feeding school going children thereby feeding our future. Children need to study, they need to be educated for India to enter into an even better future. The child can be from a poor household or from a wealthy family, they all need education. Basic access to meal should hardly be a barrier between their present and a fulfilling future!

Here’s how I feel we need to plan and execute this initiative –

#BlogToFeedAChild - Solve school children under-nutrition

Detailed Explanation - 
  • Make one meal compulsory in Schools – irrespective of the school type (Government / semi private / private / ICSE / CBSE etc.). I understand prima facie it appears illogical. But hear me out. As I mentioned that under-nutrition is not the problem of the lower income group, its spread across the classes. Making lunch or a meal compulsory will ensure the next generation will be accessible to nutritious food.
  • Government to detail the quality processes that should be followed by shortlisted food vendors. Government can seek help from quality nutritionists to chalk out the adequate level of vitamins, minerals in every meal and how vegetable / food to serve to achieve the nutritional level.
  • Schools to have a separate team for meal management. This team will be responsible for shortlisting vendors, having a daily plan for food quality testing before arranging lunch for children. One way to do this is to ensure that one point of contact from the vendor is allowed to eat along with the children. We have had cases where lizards / rodents were found in food that led to food poisoning among children. This is one way it can be prevented to a larger extent. I know it’s weird, but can be effective in the long run.
  • Independent auditors to be appointed by state government and will be fully equipped to visit any schools during the meal hours to inspect the quality of food along with how the whole activity is being managed. Any incident should be reported immediately in an online portal and strict action to be taken against the school, who in turn, can penalize / replace the vendor. 
  • Monthly check-ups for school children. This can be clubbed along with the Physical Training (PT) sessions. This will cover the basic checks along with comparison of growth over last few months.
Some of these are already happening in our country, but execution needs to happen at a national level where all schools are part of it. Government’s digital initiative can also help track this initiative and provide adequate support as and when needed.

Who will pay for such an initiative? This is where PPP (Public Private Partnership) can play a significant role. For Government schools, it can be a tie-up between government and NGO’s. For private schools, it can be part of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and not a penny from parents. I understand that the cost incurred will be significant. Private schools can also take the assistance from NGOs or other social groups. Corporates can also fund / adopt a school in their vicinity as part of their CSR. Government can appraise such corporates / schools by allowing the CSR cost as non-taxable which will encourage more participation. 

This is just my opinion. This plan may be error-prone, but subtle changes can be worked out to reduce those errors. The nuances can then be ironed out at the grass-root level. Gigantic proportion of the problem notwithstanding, I honestly feel it’s not too difficult to fight this problem. All we need is proper leadership and direction at the top and executing this to the “T” right at the school level.

This post is part of my Bloggers Social Responsibility. I will #BlogToFeedAChild with Akshaya Patra and BlogAdda.

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