Akshaya Patra Foundation aims to serve five billion meals to children across India by 2020
New Delhi, Jun2 : After feeding millions of children, Akshaya Patra Foundation is now coming up with a new initiative ‘Feed The Future Now’, which aims to serve five billion meals to children across India by 2020. Talking to UNI, Mr Shridhar Venkat, CEO of the NGO, said, “We started our school lunch initiative 17 years ago with feeding 1,500 children of five schools in Bangalore. The inspiration behind this feeding programme was A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-‘acharya’ of ISKCON, who, when he saw children fighting with dogs for scraps of food, mandated his followers to ensure – ‘No one within a ten-mile radius of our center goes hungry’.”
“In mythology, Akshaya Patra refers to the magical vessel with unending supply of food which was given to Yudhisthira by the Sun God. We want to ensure that we provide nutritious meals to these children so that they don’t have to forfeit education because of hunger,” he said. “We are the implementing partners of the Government of India’s Mid-day Meal Scheme as a part of which we provide nutritious meals to children studying in Government and Government-aided schools in 28 locations across 12 states.
While the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Rules, 2015 state that every child within the age group of six to 14 years studying in classes I to VIII who enroll and attend the school are entitled to mid-day meals, we also serve children studying in XI and X as well as Anganwadi children in the age group of 0-6 years in certain locations,” he added.
Talking about if they focus on nutrition or only food, Mr Venkath said, “We focus on both, classroom hunger and malnutrition. Our aim is to create a world where no child is deprived of education because of hunger. We ensure that our food meets the nutritional requirements prescribed as a part of the MDM guidelines.”
Replying to question that how they make choices of food to meet the nutrition need of children and how it can be managed?, he said, “Akshaya Patra’s Mid-Day Meal Programme is strictly in compliance with the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for children. In terms of nutrient content, our meals adhere to the required dietary norms as stated by the Central Mid-Day Meal Scheme (Calories: Primary- 450 Calories/ Upper Primary- 700 Calories) (Protein: Primary- 12 grams/ Upper Primary-20 grams).” He further said that the menu is designed in such a fashion that children automatically get their daily intake of fresh vegetables, dairy products, cereals, beans, legumes and oils imperative for increasing nutritional levels.
“Lots of seasonal vegetables are also incorporated in the recipes to make the meals wholesome and more palatable. Knowing that we serve different local palates, our menus are custom tailored to match the North Indian and South Indian palates. To increase wheat consumption in beneficiaries, we have in North India introduced a new item sukhadi, a popular sweet made from fortified wheat and jaggery. Akshaya Patra designed and procured a special machine to prepare it,” Mr Venkant said.
When asked about how to tackle hunger problem of country’s massive population, he said, “It is definitely a concern that one in nine people in the world are undernourished. Approximately 194 million of the 795 million undernourished people in the world are in India.
On the bright side though, there do exist welfare programmes to tackle the hunger problem;The Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) to feed school-age children and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) to feed children under six years of age and their mothers are two examples. “Effective implementation of these programs can help us tackle the hunger problem. While these are Government-initiated programs, even the civil society can help in their implementation with non-profits bringing the two sides together.
If we implement these and other related welfare programs properly, we will be able to solve the country’s hunger woes to a great extent,” he said. Over their food delivery system, the CEO said, “We realise the importance of delivering the meals to school in time. So we make it a point to do ensure that the delivery process is a smooth sail. We use custom designed vehicles that quickly and safely deliver cooked food to schools according to a strict schedule, with optimal storage and minimal spillage.
Methods like Logistic charting for route optimisation, GPRS to track the delivery vehicles for safety, and on-time delivery are gradually being adopted and implemented in the kitchens.”
When enquired about about any food donations from restaurants, Mr Venkath said, “The food we serve is prepared in our state-of-the-art centralised kitchens and delivered to schools in customised vehicles. In remote locations, like Baran (Rajasthan) and Nayagarh (Odisha), we follow the decentralised system, where food in prepared by Women Self-help Groups (SHGs) and monitored by our personnel.
” Explaining their operating system, he said, “We have dedicated team of over 6,000 employees spread over 28 locations. Despite the fact that we are a not-for-profit organisation, we follow the corporate structure with the Board of Trustees at the helm of the affairs. There are various departments, namely operations, projects and infrastructure, resource mobilisation, donor care management, communications, finance and accounts, people function, and administrative services, each headed by a stalwart of the respective field.” “In addition, we also have volunteering opportunities, wherein people can volunteer for fundraising.
In this way, people can do their bit to ensure unlimited food,’ he said. Over the food quality check system, he said that measures are taken at every stage to highest standards of safety and efficiency are met; raw material is procured from credible vendors; First-in First-out (FIFO) method is adopted for perishable commodities; and recipes are standardized with due attention given to the local palate. He said that all the kitchens have well trained Cooks and Production Supervisors to manage and supervise the production.
Critical Control Points (CCPs) like cooking temperature are checked and recorded at periodic intervals to ensure the right quality of the meal. Food quality check is done by the Quality Officers in each kitchen.
Elaborating the role of the Central government and the involvement of the state functionary, he said that the Mid-Day Meal Scheme is the flagship programme of the Government. We work with the Government as the implementing partners.” “The Government provides us grains and cash subsidies. Grains are provided through the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and the Food and Civil Supplies Corporations. The cash subsidies come from the State Governments, and vary from one state to the other.
In addition, the permission to collect donations from within the country and abroad is granted by the Government, i.e., the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of External Affairs respectively,” he added. Talking about the challenges they face while running the system, said, “While implementing a programme of this scale, we are bound to face challenges, but luckily for us, we have also found solution for these challenges rather quickly.
When the terrain or remoteness of Baran and Nayagarh made it difficult to set up centralised kitchens, we opted for the decentralised system. When it became difficult to prepare thousands of rotis, we brought it a customized roti-making machine which could churn out 40,000 rotis in an hour.” Discussing their future plans to expand, he said, “We have come a long way since our collaboration with the State Government of Karnataka for Akshara Dasoha back in 2003.
We are open to the possibility of tie ups with other State Governments. Our association with the States with which we have already partnered can serve as a template for future collaborations. In fact, with the support of MHRD, we are already in talks with other State Governments to extend our services. In addition, we are also in the process of setting up new kitchens in the state of Uttar Pradesh where we already operate.”