Updated: October 31, 2021 7:26:42 am
Flagging “critical” levels of malnutrition and anaemia among children, the Union Government has urged the states to explore the possibility of introducing millets in the mid-day meal scheme, now known as PM Poshan.
Millets or nutri-cereals, which include Jowar, Bajra, and Ragi, are rich in minerals and B-complex vitamins, as well as proteins and antioxidants, making them an ideal choice for improving the nutritional outcome of children.
In their joint letter dated October 28, School Education Secretary Anita Karwal and Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Secretary Sanjay Agarwal wrote that consumption of millets remains low due to lack of awareness and availability.
“The Government of India is taking a series of initiatives to ameliorate this. As per National Family Health Survey-IV, 38 per cent of children under five years of age are stunted and 59 per cent of children are anemic, which is critical. Among one of the series of initiatives, to reduce malnutrition and anaemia, Government of India is laying emphasis on consumption of millets,” they said.
NITI Aayog has been advocating the need to introduce millets in the mid-day meal programme, moving away from rice and wheat. In 2019, it released a report showing the benefits of millets based on a study among adolescents in four Karnataka schools.
The study found “statistically significant improvement” in stunting and body mass index among children who were fed millets. India pushed a resolution to declare 2023 as the international years of millets which has been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
“You are requested to explore the possibilities to introduce millets under Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN) Scheme, preferably in the districts where eating millets is a culturally accepted food habit…you may introduce millets (nutri-cereals) based menu once a week,” said the Centre.
Under PM Poshan, the Centre bears the cost of food grains and their transportation. While the menu differs from state to state, children are largely fed rice- and wheat-based preparations, but the scheme has a provision for supplementary nutrition in aspirational districts and those with high prevalence of anaemia.
The Centre has also requested the states to expedite the use of fortified rice to address high levels of malnutrition. Officials are hoping that offtake of fortified rice will pick up once schools start functioning at full capacity across states.