‘Smart food of 21st cen­tury’ for the chil­dren

Mil­lets are good for farm­ers, for na­ture and for us. Th­ese nu­tri­tion-rich food grains should be made part of the mid-day meal scheme

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Ajay Kav­ish­war

In­dia’s mid-day meal (MDM) scheme is the largest school lunch pro­gramme in the world, with over 97 mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries. It aims at im­prov­ing the nu­tri­tional sta­tus of chil­dren in gov­ern­ment and gov­ern­ment-aided schools by pro­vid­ing them freshly cooked nu­tri­tious meals ev­ery day. since the in­cep­tion of this ini­tia­tive, how­ever, wheat and rice have been its sta­ple con­stituents. While th­ese food grains no doubt come as a bless­ing for millions of chil­dren for whom the mid-day meal is the only proper meal for the day, there is some scope to do bet­ter. The time has come to pay heed to a lesser known source of sig­nif­i­cantly higher nu­tri­tional value: mil­lets – the high fi­bre, pro­tein-rich smart food.

in­dia is cur­rently home to about 50 per­cent of un­der­nour­ished chil­dren of the world with mi­cronu­tri­ent de­fi­cien­cies be­ing key con­trib­u­tors to mal­nour­ish­ment. Th­ese de­fi­cien­cies af­fect the cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal growth of chil­dren. The na­tional Health Pol­icy 2017 em­pha­sised on the need to ad­dress mi­cronu­tri­ent mal­nour­ish­ment by pro­mot­ing mi­cronu­tri­ent sup­ple­men­ta­tion and food for­ti­fi­ca­tion, and cre­at­ing pub­lic aware­ness . in keep­ing with th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions, the ad­di­tion of su­per foods – such as mil­lets – in the diet, can help ad­dress a range of de­fi­cien­cies, es­pe­cially in chil­dren and women. The in­tro­duc­tion of mil­lets into the MDM scheme, for in­stance, can help ad­dress th­ese de­fi­cien­cies among millions of school-go­ing chil­dren.

Smart food of 21st cen­tury

Mil­lets are now be­ing pro­moted as the ‘smart food of the 21st cen­tury’ as they are highly nu­tri­tious and have sev­eral health ben­e­fits to their credit. They are rich in pro­teins, min­er­als, di­etary fi­bre, iron, zinc, mag­ne­sium, fats, cal­cium, phos­pho­rus, potas­sium, vi­ta­min B, and es­sen­tial amino acids. Fin­ger mil­let (ragi) has three times the amount of cal­cium com­pared to milk. For ev­ery 100g, fin­ger mil­let con­tains 0.344mg of cal­cium. in con­trast, for ev­ery 100g, rice con­tains 0.010mg of cal­cium. While 100g of barn­yard mil­let con­tains 0.019mg of iron and 4.700g min­er­als , the same quan­tity of rice con­tains 0.002mg of iron and 0.600g of min­er­als. While rice con­tains 6.800g of pro­teins for ev­ery 100g, proso mil­let con­tains 12.500g – al­most dou­ble the amount of pro­tein .

They are heart-healthy foods which also help in con­trol­ling choles­terol lev­els and their low Glycemic in­dex can pre­vent di­a­betes. Fur­ther­more, they dis­play su­pe­rior an­tiox­i­dant ac­tiv­ity and are also gluten-free – the lat­ter mak­ing them the best al­ter­na­tive to wheat for peo­ple with glu­cose in­tol­er­ance. Their rich cal­cium and iron con­tent, along with the sev­eral afore­men­tioned ben­e­fits, makes them per­fect health foods for chil­dren. ev­i­dently, mil­lets are a worth­while source of whole­some nu­tri­tion, and there­fore, it would be valu­able to in­cor­po­rate th­ese smart foods in nu­tri­tion-based wel­fare schemes such as the MDM and the in­te­grated child devel­op­ment ser­vices (icds) schemes. Th­ese foods can play a key role in help­ing achieve higher nu­tri­tional lev­els, thus tack­ling nu­tri­tion­re­lated de­fi­cien­cies in chil­dren.

While it is a good idea to in­cor­po­rate mil­lets in mid-day meals, the suc­cess of this ini­tia­tive will largely de­pend on

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ak­shaya Pa­tra, the Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment has also ini­ti­ated a pilot project to serve mil­let-based food items twice a week to 1,622 ben­e­fi­cia­ries from 10 schools in Ben­galuru as a part of the MDM scheme.

chil­dren’s ac­cept­abil­ity of a mil­lets­based menu. This can be chal­leng­ing when they are not used to th­ese foods in their reg­u­lar diet. it is im­por­tant, there­fore, that the recipes based on mil­lets are tailored tak­ing this fac­tor into con­sid­er­a­tion. one way to en­sure that the tran­si­tion is smooth is to pro­vide them mil­let-based recipes such as chikki and lad­doos, along with the reg­u­lar mid-day meal ini­tially and grad­u­ally add other recipes.

A boon for agri­cul­ture

Mil­lets don’t just have numer­ous health ben­e­fits, but also have sev­eral ad­van­tages to of­fer to the agri­cul­tural sec­tor if they are added to mid­day meals. Af­ter nearly four decades of farm­ing ir­ri­ga­tion-in­ten­sive crops, such as rice and wheat, in­dia is look­ing for more sus­tain­able ways of farm­ing. Mil­lets, the ‘smart crop of the 21st cen­tury’, have low car­bon and wa­ter foot­print. They con­sume 80 per­cent less wa­ter than crops like sug­ar­cane, rice, and wheat, and re­quire 70 per­cent less chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers. More­over, they are highly cli­mate-re­silient. Be­ing drought-tol­er­ant, pest-re­sis­tant, high­yield­ing, low-risk crops, mil­lets have a low in­put cost which makes them ex­tremely favourable to farm­ers. in times when sev­eral parts of the coun­try are bat­tling drought, grow­ing mil­lets can come as bless­ing in dis­guise – es­pe­cially for farm­ers with small hold­ings. For farm­ers, this means re­duced cost of farm­ing, and thus, a boost to their in­come and liveli­hood.

even with a grow­ing de­mand for mil­lets from ur­ban con­sumers, the area un­der mil­let cul­ti­va­tion de­clined to 14.72 mil­lion hectares in 2016-17, down 60 per­cent com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year. As a move to en­cour­age farm­ers to bring more area un­der cul­ti­va­tion of mil­lets, the cen­tre and var­i­ous states are in­cen­tivis­ing mil­let cul­ti­va­tion for farm­ers. Kar­nataka, for in­stance, is of­fer­ing a bonus of ₹400 per quin­tal in ad­di­tion to the min­i­mum sup­port price of ₹1,700-1,725 per quin­tal of jowar and ₹1,900 for ragi .

The gov­ern­ment is also ac­tively work­ing to­wards high­light­ing the im­por­tance of mil­lets for both con­sumers and pro­duc­ers. Th­ese ef­forts on the part of the gov­ern­ment to pro­mote mil­lets will re­ceive a ma­jor boost with the large-scale in­clu­sion of mil­lets in the MDM scheme. The re­sul­tant higher de­mand for th­ese crops would in­cen­tivise farm­ers to opt for them over paddy and wheat.

Mil­let in­te­gra­tion in mid-day meals through col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the cen­tre and the state’s MDM scheme and their re­spec­tive de­part­ments of agri­cul­ture would be mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial for both, chil­dren and farm­ers. in­ter­est­ingly, the in­ter­na­tional crops re­search in­sti­tute for the semi-arid Trop­ics (icrisat) pro­motes mil­lets as ‘smart Food – good for you, good for the planet, and good for the small­holder farmer.’ in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ak­shaya Pa­tra, the Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment has also ini­ti­ated a pilot project to serve mil­let-based food items twice a week to 1,622 ben­e­fi­cia­ries from 10 schools in Ben­galuru as a part of the MDM scheme.

Be­sides their in­clu­sion in the MDM and the icds feed­ing, the gov­ern­ment should also con­sider adding mil­lets as sub­sidised food to the pub­lic distri­bu­tion sys­tem (PDS). This will fa­cil­i­tate con­ver­gence of nu­tri­tion-based wel­fare pro­grammes, thus en­sur­ing that chil­dren get nu­tri­tious food at home right from early age and con­trib­ute to­wards their over­all devel­op­ment.

The in­clu­sion of mil­lets in the MDM scheme will ame­lio­rate the qual­ity of meals pro­vided to chil­dren and aug­ment their nu­tri­tional lev­els. This makes a strong case for their in­clu­sion in the school lunch pro­gramme, which is fur­ther strength­ened by the fact that mil­let in­tro­duc­tion will also bring in di­ver­sity to the meal and help in achiev­ing the tran­si­tion from food se­cu­rity to nu­tri­tion se­cu­rity for chil­dren. It will make a dif­fer­ence in lives of th­ese chil­dren, thus paving way for them to be­come pro­duc­tive ci­ti­zens of the coun­try.

Kav­ish­war is di­rec­tor, PR & ad­vo­cacy, The Ak­shaya Pa­tra Foun­da­tion.

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