School Lunch: Feeding India's massive student population

School Lunch: Feeding India's massive student population

Ashkaya Pertaya is a non-profit group that runs 17 kitchens across eight states within India, feeding 1.26 million children everyday in their schools. This organization is the main partner for the Indian government’s Mid-day Meal Scheme, the largest school-lunch program in the world. It aspires to feed 5 million children by 2020, with 65 percent of its funds coming from the state, according to an article in Time Magazine...

While this program retains hope for India’s children, the country remains home to more undernourished children than any other nation. In fact, 42 percent of the world’s undernourished children under the age of 5 live in India alone.

The prevalence of undernourishment in highlights the fundamental difference between economic growth and economic development. For while India boasts an impressively booming economy that only promises more growth in the future, the poverty and undernourishment rates in India remain strikingly high. Furthermore, the gap between the economic classes is only increasing over time.

Many different factors contribute to India’s consistently high poverty rate, including a large amount of low-skilled workers, a concentrated agricultural sector, and a basically non-existent manufacturing sector. Most of India’s workers are informal or unorganized employees.

Quality of employment remains a big issue as well, and most workers do not have social security. Many are devoid of any opportunity to economically advance because of the structured caste system in India that severely hinders social mobility. Those born to poor families have limited access to education, technology and outside employment.

Furthermore, around half of India’s workers are fixed in the agricultural sector. India’s rural sector is generally unsuccessful as only two percent of the vegetables and fruits the country produces are processed, resulting in low labor productivity. Half of the agricultural workers are illiterate, and thus lack the education or skill to work elsewhere.

India transitioned directly from agriculture to services, with less focus on the manufacturing sector. As seen in China, employment in the manufacturing sector helps greatly reduce the rural poverty and low productivity.

To secure economic development, India must take strides that go beyond economic growth. India must develop a manufacturing sector to absorb workers from the agricultural sector and adopt economic reforms with a pro-poor agenda. It further must work on reducing the social inequity by increasing accessibility to education and technology.

In general, India needs a more inclusive economic growth for long term stability. While some programs like India’s mid-day Meal scheme are great in providing certain aid to India’s poor, they are only a temporary band-aid to a problem that runs much deeper.

--Ophir Haberer