Nutrition and livelihoods: A weapon that can kill two birds — hunger and rural poverty

A proposed scheme for inclusion of milk in the National Mid-Day Meal programme and delivering it to 10 crore schoolchildren.

By BM Vyas & Manu Kaushik

India is a nation of contradictions.

It has 121 people in the Forbes World’s Billionaires list, below only that of two countries: The US (585) and China (373). Yet, the last official data for 2011-12 also shows 21.9 per cent of its population being below the poverty line.

Moreover, we rank 100th out of 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index for 2017. 14.5 per cent of India’s population is undernourished, while the prevalence of mortality, wasting (low weight for height) and stunting (low height for age) in its children under the age of five is 4.8 per cent, 21 per cent and 38.4 per cent, respectively. Compare these to China, which is ranked 29th in the overall index, with its respective undernourishment, child mortality, wasting and stunting ratios at 9.6 per cent, 1.1 per cent, 1.8 per cent and 6.3 per cent.

Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize winner for Economics in 2015, has highlighted how under-nutrition in India isn’t just a calorie intake issue, but also has to do with predominantly carbohydrate-based diets with low protein and fat content. This, for a country that also boasts of being the world’s largest producer of the most wholesome source of protein and fat: milk. The irony is all the more, when farmers are now pouring milk on roads and dairies have slashed procurement prices due to the huge stocks of unsold powder lying with them.

The solution in these circumstances could well be diverting the surplus milk, which dairies are unable to handle today, for distribution under the Integrated Child Development Services and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) schemes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his latest Independence Day address, has talked about malnutrition being a “major hurdle” and “huge bottleneck” in the development of children, and also how he was “restless” to rid the country of it. His government should walk the talk, by committing serious resources on the one programme that can effectively deliver on this front.

The MDM scheme at present covers around 10 crore children across some 10 lakh schools in India. Reaching milk to these children daily would, in the normal course, be a logistical nightmare. Milk requires a cold chain, without which its shelf life is only a couple of hours. Also, the milk in normal pouches bought by households contains millions of disease-causing microbes. It cannot be drunk without boiling, which isn’t easy in schools where there are 100 children on an average.

The system to deliver milk under MDM should be one that doesn’t compromise on quality and hygiene of the product, while also being cold chain free. The best way to do that is by making available milk in 6-months shelf life carton packs of 200 ml. India has over 850 dairy plants, including 250-odd in the cooperative sector. Out of them, there are at least 100 plants having enough space to put up separate dedicated lines for processing and packing 2 lakh litres per day (LLPD) of long-life UHT (ultra-heat treated) milk. These 100 plants, handling 200 LLPD, would be able to supply 200 ml of milk daily to 10 crore children under the MDM scheme.

What would be the cost?

The investment for a 2 LLPD UHT-cum-carton packing facility in an existing dairy will be Rs 60-70 crore. For 100 plants — each with capacity to pack 10 lakh 200-ml cartons a day — the total capital cost comes to Rs 6,000-7,000 crore. But the advantage with carton packing is that the shelf life of milk goes up and a school’s requirement need be supplied only once a month, rather than on a daily basis. The logistics of transporting milk from 100 plants to 10 lakh schools once a month can be broken down to 10,000 schools per plant. On a daily basis — taking 25 working days in a month — it works out to 400 schools per plant. If a 10-tonne (10,000-litres) truck were to cover 20 schools daily, the dairy has to, then, engage 20 such trucks.

The logistical savings, in other words, are worth the initial investment. How about operational costs?

While the procurement cost of toned milk would be Rs 5-6 per 200 ml, packaging, transportation and fortification will take it to Rs 12 or Rs 60 per litre. Thus, 200 LLPD would cost roughly Rs 120 crore a day or Rs 24,000 crore annually, assuming 200 school-days in a year. But this is insignificant, when the Centre’s budgeted food subsidy bill for 2018-19 is Rs 169,323 crore and the value of milk produced by Indian farmers today exceeds that of all cereals and pulses combined. Milk’s inclusion in the MDM scheme will not only ensure superior nutritional outcomes for our children, but 50 per cent of the Rs 24,000-crore annual outlay would go to India’s mostly resource-poor dairy farmers.

To plug leakages under the scheme, the Centre could use the fintech systems developed as part of its Digital India initiative. The scheme funds can be transferred directly to a unique School Milk Project Account (SMPA) of every school. The school will, then, pay to the dairy on delivery of the milk consignment. The SMPA could further be configured to pay only to one account — that of the dairy responsible for supply to the particular school.

The beauty of milk is not just in its being a perfect medium to deliver nutrition — in the form of protein, fat and minerals, and also through fortification with Vitamin A and D — to those needing it the most. Milk, as Verghese Kurien saw it, is also the ideal vehicle for promotion of livelihoods and improving incomes in rural India.

India has reached a stage, where the market for milk isn’t growing at the same rate as production. The current crisis stemming from a production glut can be overcome not by subsidising export of milk powder, but by expanding the domestic market for liquid milk. That market of 200 LLPD through the MDM scheme is the best legacy that Prime Minister Modi can leave in his current term.

Source: The Indian Express

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