India has the largest programme, catering to over 114 million children
A global report by the World Food Project (WFP) for 2013 on 169 countries has said that India has the largest school feeding programme in the world, catering to over 114 million children, but stands 12thamong 35 lower-middle-income countries covering 79 per cent of its total number of school-going children.
The report titled “State of School Feeding Worldwide, 2013” draws from a global survey conducted by WFP in 2012 and a series of case studies and peer reviewed technical working papers undertaken in collaboration with partner countries.
The report lauds India’s mid-day meal scheme as “a good example of a mixed implementation approach” with two procurement processes — one for food grains, which are subsidised Centrally through the government-owned Food Corporation of India, and one for other items like fresh fruits or vegetables, procured at the State level.
The report notes that gross primary enrolment grew between 2001-2002 and 2007-2008 in India, following the implementation of the mid-day meal programme, particularly among Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
The report adds an important rider — “school feeding can only help if the other major elements that are prerequisites for learning — such as teachers, textbooks, curriculum and an environment conducive to learning — are also in place.” It warns that care should be taken to avoid using teachers or education staff to prepare food, since this “merely taxes the system that school-feeding programmes aim to enhance.”
The report also says that the nutritional impact of the programme is yet to be evaluated. “The links with health and nutrition could be strengthened considerably by better coordination between sectors. Other weaknesses remain, such as insufficient allocation of budget for food transportation and infrastructure.” Late disbursement of government funds too has a negative impact.
In a significant recommendation, the report proposes linking the programme to the agriculture sector which “can potentially benefit the entire community as well as the children.” Countries like Brazil, Chile and Scotland have demonstrated the effectiveness of purchasing school food locally in order to simultaneously “feed children better and stimulate the local economy.”