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Impact of Rising Food Costs on Supplementary Feeding Programmes

During the last three months there has been a steep increase in the cost of a whole range of food stuffs: cereals, pulses, oil, vegetables and fruits in India. The across the board increase in prices has been attributed to a variety of factors, some global and some local.

In order to improve nutrition security of vulnerable groups, Government of India (GOI) had initiated countrywide food supplementation programme such as ICDS (providing food supplements to pregnant and lactating women and preschool children) and Mid-day meal (for primary school children).

GOI provides food grains at subsidised cost for these supplementary feeding programmes and bears varying proportion of the cost of converting food grains into hot cooked balanced meal by adding pulses, oils and vegetables. These programmes benefit a large segment of the most vulnerable section of the population and are the largest of their kind in the world.

There are as yet no reports on the impact of the sudden escalation in the price of food stuffs on these programmes or on the steps to counter the adverse fallout.

It will be of immense value if members of the Food and Nutrition Community can share information or ideas on the following aspects so that these food supplementation programmes can be sustained in the long run:

  • To what extent the increase in food prices has affected these programmes and whether there is any adverse impact on the quality and quantity of food supplementation?
  • What local or regional steps have been or can be taken to mitigate the adverse impact of price rise?
  • What specific measures would you suggest to make these programmes sustainable in the long term?
  • Insights from members will help in assessing the impact of the price rise if any on these programmes and local success stories can show others how to cope with the situation without any detriment to the quality and quantity of food supplements

    The MDM programme envisaged the provision of cooked meals/ processed food of calorific value equivalent to 100g of wheat /rice for children studying in classes IV in all Government, local body and Government aided primary schools free of cost. This recommendation was based on a study done by National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) data, 1990-92, on dietary consumption patterns of rural children using a one-day 24-hour recall method. It was observed that the children had a deficit of the magnitude of 628 kcal and 6-7g protein in the daily diets.

    Thus, the National Programme for Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NPNSPE), 2006, suggested that from the nutritional angle, the endeavor should be to bridge the average nutritional gap of 600 kcal through a balanced diet of cereals, pulses, fats and vegetables; the cereal component could be to the order of 60-90 percent of the calorie deficit or roughly 100g of food grains.

    In keeping with the promise made in the budget speech of 2004, (NPNSPE, introduced in 1995), was revised in September 2004 to provide cooked mid day meal with 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein to all children studying in classes I - V in Government and aided schools and Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative and Innovative Education (AIE) centres. In addition to free supply of food grains, the revised scheme provided Central Assistance for the following items:

  • Cooking cost @ Re 1 per child per school day
  • Transport subsidy was raised from the earlier maximum of Rs 50 per quintal to Rs. 100 per quintal for special category states, and Rs 75 per quintal for other states
  • Management, monitoring and evaluation costs @ 2% of the cost of food grains, transport subsidy and cooking assistance
  • Provision of mid day meal during summer vacation in drought affected areas.
  • As per the NPNSPE guidelines 2006, the provision of resources is as follows:

    NoSub Heads1 to 5 Grade (Rs)6 - 7(Rs)
    1.Food Grains1.152.70
    2.Fuel, Vegetable and Condiments0.700.70
    3.Honorarium to Staff0.340.34
    4.Administrative Expenditure0.250.25

    The Budget 2008-09 also emphasized the importance of MDM and has made more provisions.

    However, the functionaries concerned with the running of the MDM need to be sensitized as to how to effectively plan recipes that are tasty and meet the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for various nutrients for these children.

    Till these points are taken care, with inflation in vegetable costs, fuels cost, and low honorarium to staff, it becomes difficult for such large scale program to fulfill the micronutrient gaps.

    Our data reveal that even the calorie and proteins supplied via the cooked food is also not meeting the guidelines as students have to bring their own vessels, which may not be big enough to take the required serving of the recipe prepared on that particular day.

    Hope encouragement is provided for school gardening and effective planning and selection of recipes directed by nutrition/dietetics experts so as to fulfill the NPNSPE guidelines within the cost constrains.

    The increase in cost of Petrol and Diesel have direct impact on the Procurement and Distribution of food for supplementary nutrition, to be distributed under ICDS scheme.

    We conducted a study during 1989-90, sponsored by Department of Women and Child Development, Government of India, to find the "Status of Procurement and Distribution of Supplementary Nutrition in ICDS scheme in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states."

    It was found that the food for supplementary nutrition was procured centrally by the states governments and this was kept in the godowns owned by the state governments at the district level. From these godowns at the district level, the food for supplementary nutrition was further distributed to the individual AWC, by a contractor who utilised a tractor or tempo. The contract rate for distribution was finalised with contractor by the government while considering the existing prices of petrol or diesel. (the tender for the lowest quotation was approved)

    Whenever there was a hike in the petrol or diesel prices, the contractor stopped the distribution of food and re-negotiated the contract rate with the state government. The re-finalisation of the contract took about 2-3 months (at times more). During this period there was no supply of food for supplementary nutrition in the AWCs.

    The cost per beneficiary of food was found to inadequate to provide food 300 Kcals (Child beneficiary) 500 Kcals (Pregnant women).


    K.G. Thara, Institute of Land and Disaster Management, Trivandrum.

    With the inflation rates touching double figures, no doubt any food and nutrition programme is going to suffer the negative impacts. The following have been successfully experimented in Kerala;

  • Promotion of nutritional food crops through women SHG's in vulnerable areas
  • Cultivation and distribution of traditional food crops through NCC/NYK/National Service Scheme volunteers
  • Linking these programmes to alternative livelihood programmes to ensure that supply meets demand.

  • Sustainability of these programmes can be ascertained by dovetailing these programmes into the developmental plans of Panchayati Raj Institutes.

    K K Datta, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi.

    In a close economy, suggestion towards locally used items in order to reduce external dependency may be accepted to a certain extent but not fully. What is lacking is our understanding as well as our knowledge about what we mean "Security". Security has its own time dimension, may be today we are secure in terms of its availability but not tomorrow and may be for future. We have to look in broader perspective and address the situation. It is not always to look the conventional way what we refer too.

    K S Karnic, Independent Consultant, Bangalore.

    The impact of rising cost of food articles on the mid meal programme could be minimised by actively involving the locals for supply of vegetables, fuel at reasonable cost. If the school staff are good and doing their job satisfactorily, there is every possibility that locals donate/provide funds to meet the additional cost. Lest the programme is bound to suffer, because State Governments would take its own time to enhance/release additional grants for the programme. Finally food security remains on the paper.