As the implementing partner for the Government’s flagship programme, PM-POSHAN (formerly the Mid-Day Meal Scheme), Akshaya Patra serves hot, nutritious and tasty mid-day meals to over 2 Million children in 15 states and 2 union territories of India. We have the distinction of being the largest NGO-run school feeding programme in the world.
According to various surveys conducted by reputed organisations in the Child Health segment, 40% of India’s population is below 18 years of age. Out of this, less than 50% go to school. Many children are forced to engage in menial jobs and quit school to earn a single meal a day. Research has shown that hunger and malnutrition are responsible for the lack of universal education. They reduce school attendance, enrolment, and retention, and hamper students’ concentration in school and their academic performance. This is especially true among girl children as many low-income families don’t view a girl’s education as a priority.
The role of NGOs engaged in the education and nutrition sectors in India is to ensure that every child receives proper education and has food in their belly to get to that level. As a National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE), PM-POSHAN (formerly the Mid-Day Meal Scheme) works as a great incentive to bring children to school. It allows them to pursue their education without worrying about food, thus helping with the universalisation of education.
At Akshaya Patra, we majorly work towards mitigating classroom hunger and bringing more children closer to education. Hunger continues to be a barrier to education and consequently, a better life for many children. Most people prefer to send their children to work to support the family instead of sending them to school to get an education. At the same time, those children who do make it to the school are vulnerable to classroom hunger. Their families cannot afford two square meals, and therefore, most of them come to school hungry. As a result of this, they are unable to concentrate on classroom activities, thus defeating the purpose of schooling. In these situations, wholesome school lunch can go a long way in making life easier for millions of children and their families across the country.
We partner with the Government of India and several State Governments to achieve two of the critical UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – SDG 2 – Zero Hunger (by addressing classroom hunger and malnutrition) and SDG 4 – Quality Education (by bringing children closer to education). Indirectly, we contribute various other SDGs, including SDG 1 – No Poverty (by helping children get a good education and fight the vicious cycle of poverty), SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being (by providing nutritious food which has a positive impact on children’s health) and SGD 5 – Gender Equality (by promoting girl child education).
In the pursuit of our vision, No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger, we operate two kitchen models: (i) centralised kitchens, which enable us to undertake large-scale feeding, and (ii) decentralised kitchens, which help us reach out to children in remote areas where it is not feasible to set up centralised kitchens. The technology and processes used in our centralised kitchens have been a topic of research and study in the course curriculum of many renowned universities, including the Harvard Business School.
Our network of kitchens enables us to reach out to 2 million children every school day and maximise the impact of the school feeding programme. Mindful of the fact that the mid-day meal is the only proper meal of the day for many children, we strive to ensure that our meals provide children the RDA of macronutrients and micronutrients. Our menu is designed with due adherence to local palate and regional acceptability, and therefore, the menu for North India is predominantly wheat based, whereas the menu for South India and Assam is rice-based. We also incorporate menu diversity to improve consumption.
Akshaya Patra is conscious of its responsibility towards children as well as the society. In times of adversity, we have put to use the huge capacity of our kitchens for humanitarian relief work across the country to address food and nutrition insecurity. We have undertaken relief feeding in various parts of the country, from Uttar Pradesh to Tamil Nadu and Gujarat to Assam during floods, droughts, other natural disasters and more recently during the COVID-19 Pandemic. While most of over relief feeding endeavours over the years have been region specific, during the pandemic, we executed food relief across the country by providing cooked meals and essential grocery kits to people in need.
Over the years, we have partnered with the Governments of 15 states and two union territories in the pursuit of our mission to reach 3 million children by 2025. In February 2019, we reached the milestone of serving cumulative 3 Billion meals and are slowly inching towards the 4 billion meals milestone.
We have also introduced initiatives that go beyond the mid-day meal to facilitate overall development of children. These include (i) the school rejuvenation programme to provide a conducive environment for children through a series of infrastructural and academic interventions, (ii) digital education programme to bridge the digital divide and further digital inclusiveness by providing students belonging to economically weaker sections of society access to good quality, modern education free of cost, and (iii) the scholarship programme to nurture the aspirations of deserving children from underserved communities by providing them financial aid.
The Government of India has made provision for the engagement of NGOs in the implementation of the PM-POSHAN (Mid-Day Meal Programme), thus paving the way for organisations like Akshaya Patra to contribute to the welfare of our children. The successful implementation of the programme based on the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model has helped scale it to every corner of the country, benefiting millions of children.