Pro­vid­ing milk through PDS: no­ble but un­re­al­is­tic?

Pro­posal to pro­vide milk through PDS and an­gan­wadis and im­prove nutri­tion pro­file is no­ble but un­re­al­is­tic

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Sree­latha Menon

Milk is one liq­uid that usu­ally moves up­wards, at least in eco­nomic terms. The poor can’t af­ford this im­por­tant source of nutri­tion. But imag­ine chil­dren get­ting milk in schools as part of mid-day meals, and the poor get­ting some from public dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem (PDS) shops. That is pre­cisely what the agri­cul­ture min­istry has in mind.

The min­istry has writ­ten to all states to in­clude milk in the mid-day meal (mdm) scheme for school­child­ren and even asked the depart­ment of food and public dis­tri­bu­tion to con­sider in­clu­sion of milk in the public dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem (PDS), ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports in early Jan­uary. It has also re­quested the min­istry of women and child de­vel­op­ment (mwcd) to in­clude milk in the Na­tional Nutri­tion mis­sion through an­gan­wadis.

“The depart­ment of an­i­mal hus­bandry, dairy­ing and fish­eries has is­sued an ad­vi­sory on De­cem­ber 15 to states to in­clude milk in the mid-day meal scheme, an­gan­wadi scheme, etc. The depart­ment of food and public dis­tri­bu­tion was re­quested to con­sider in­clu­sion of milk in the PDS. The min­istry of women and child de­vel­op­ment was re­quested to in­clude milk in the nutri­tion mis­sion like an­gan­wadi scheme (sic). This will in­crease the con­sump­tion of milk and sub­se­quently bet­ter re­turns to dairy farm­ers even in flush sea­son as well,” ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial state­ment of Jan­uary 2.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers at the Kr­ishi Bha­van be­lieve this will help dairy farm­ers in get­ting bet­ter re­turns through­out the year. That would help in the min­istry’s plan to in­crease milk pro­duc­tion to 255 mil­lion tonnes by 2022, which would con­trib­ute to­wards the gov­ern­ment’s prom­ise of dou­bling farm­ers’ in­come through mul­ti­ple forms of farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

This no­ble idea, how­ever, does not seem re­al­is­tic. con­sider the lo­gis­tics: sup­ply­ing a per­ish­able com­mod­ity like milk through ra­tion shops or an­gan­wadis or schools would re­quire the set­ting up of chill­ing plants or cold chains in each vil­lage, or the linking up of var­i­ous food and nutri­tion schemes with milk co­op­er­a­tives.

The gov­ern­ment’s wish to pro­vide a daily source of cal­cium to more and more peo­ple also seems un­re­al­is­tic given the fact that it has been un­able to pro­vide even a kilo­gram of mil­lets, which are equally good sources of pro­tein and cal­cium be­sides other nu­tri­ents even though the right to Food act in­cluded the pro­vi­sion.

Why not con­sider pulses and ed­i­ble oil in­stead, asks Bhaskar goswami, agri­cul­ture econ­o­mist and for­merly with the Food and agri­cul­ture or­gan­i­sa­tion (Fao) of the un. more­over, he adds, while pro­vid­ing milk is the­o­ret­i­cally a nice idea, it would mean that ev­ery PDS shop would re­quire a re­frig­er­a­tor and un­in­ter­rupted sup­ply of power which is never go­ing to hap­pen. “eggs would be a bet­ter choice,” he says, though there are ide­o­log­i­cal con­straints.

There lies the catch. The pro­posed milk push may have less to do with the de­sire to im­prove the nutri­tion sta­tus or im­prove farm­ers’ earn­ings. It may have to do with the at­ti­tude which has struck eggs off the mid-day meal scheme in some

Bjp-ruled states like mad­hya Pradesh and ra­jasthan.

Prof Sukh­pal, fac­ulty at the cen­tre for man­age­ment in agri­cul­ture at IIM ahmed­abad, says the milk move might be aimed at re­plac­ing eggs in the mdm scheme. The gov­ern­ment may be push­ing a ver­sion of veg­e­tar­i­an­ism. What­ever be the mo­tive, the out­come is not go­ing to be help farm­ers much, he adds.

each stu­dent may ul­ti­mately get, say, 100 ml of milk for ₹2 – the fi­nal quan­tity would be very lit­tle com­pared to in­vest­ment needed in lo­gis­tics and other pre­req­ui­sites, he says.

Would such a move help the po­lit­i­cally charged cause of cows? Sukh­pal ar­gues that it would be mere lip ser­vice; the fate of cows would not im­prove with this as they need fod­der which is not avail­able most of the time.

Sukh­pal agrees, as does ev­ery­one else, that milk is a com­mod­ity rarely con­sumed by the poor­est of poor even if they have cat­tle and are in the busi­ness of milk. So if the gov­ern­ment pushes through its plan to pro­vide milk to ra­tion-card holders, then poor fam­i­lies may get to con­sume some of the milk that they sell. They sell it for ₹30 a litre and may get to buy some for, say, ₹5. It would be like farm­ers sell­ing grains in the mar­ket and then buy­ing it for ₹2 from ra­tion shops, says Sukh­pal.

also, any ad­di­tion in the ar­ti­cles sup­plied through PDS should be wel­come – pro­vided the PDS is func­tion­ing ef­fi­ciently.

In andhra Pradesh, for in­stance, the gov­ern­ment has been pro­mot­ing dairy farm­ing. Peo­ple get easy loans to buy cows. many fam­i­lies in vil­lages own a cow or two and many own goats. But the prob­lem is that when drought hits vil­lages, there is no fod­der. No banks or gov­ern­ment schemes pro­vide for fod­der, says Ja­gan­mo­han, project man­ager of Ngo ap mahila ab­hivrudhi So­ci­ety or ap­mas.

He finds the idea of pro­vid­ing milk in PDS and mdm mind-bog­gling. “They will need to es­tab­lish a cold chain for this. How can they reach ru­ral ar­eas where power sup­ply is quite in­fre­quent?” he asks.

But he agrees that the poor def­i­nitely don’t drink milk even though sell­ing milk is the main al­ter­na­tive in­come for most farm­ing fam­i­lies in chit­toor district where he works.

What could bet­ter serve the cul­tural agenda of any­one in the coun­try is pro­mo­tion of the in­dige­nous food grains like mil­lets. That would help farm­ers and would also en­able them to cope with the un­cer­tain­ties of weather re­lated to cli­mate change. Such crops re­quire less wa­ter and are ideal for both food and fod­der.

ra­jasthan, mad­hya Pradesh, ma­ha­rash­tra, andhra Pradesh and Kar­nataka used to grow and con­sume var­i­ous mil­lets like bar­ley, ragi, jowar and ba­jra. They have been weaned away from it thanks to the cheap sup­ply of rice and wheat in PDS shops dur­ing the past half cen­tury. But at least two states, Kar­nataka and Te­lan­gana, have re­cently in­tro­duced mil­lets in both PDS and the mdm scheme fol­low­ing ad­vo­cacy by Ngos.

The gov­ern­ment’s wish to pro­vide a daily source of cal­cium to more and more peo­ple also seems un­re­al­is­tic given the fact that it has been un­able to pro­vide even a kilo­gram of mil­lets, which are equally good sources of pro­tein and cal­cium be­sides other nu­tri­ents even though the Right to Food Act in­cluded the pro­vi­sion.

Photos: gn

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