Come August, over 25 lakh students in Kerala’s government and aided schools will have a new addition to their midday meal menu: seasonal, locally-available fruits once a week. The project, which will get formal sanction soon from the state’s ruling LDF government, also aims to turn expansive government school compounds into biodiversity parks so as to teach students about the techniques of holistic bio-farming and fruit cultivation.
A top education official told the Indian Express that the introduction of a seasonal fruit variety – such as banana, mango or papaya – on the midday meal menu will boost the nutritional requirements of students, who are already supplied with milk twice a week and eggs once a week.
The project, he said, will be funded through a mix of sources: innovative programme provision of the central government and contributions from local bodies, PTA and community organisations. A funding component from the state government will be added too, he said.
Initially, fruits will be supplied to the schools through networks of Kudumbashree, the state’s famed women-centred self-help groups, and later through in-situ fruit farms developed in the compounds itself.
Many schools, especially in the state’s rural areas, have already set up such farms.
“The idea is to get students plant fruit trees themselves within the compound and harvest them later. There are different aspects like water harvesting, bio-farming and environment protection that have been integrated into the programme. We will also assess calorie values and see how we can perfect the scheme even more,” the official said.
Funding is not a hurdle, he added, as the government can easily depend on plan funds of local bodies as well as cooperation from community organisations.
Last year, he said, the state government was able to harvest nearly Rs 25 crores worth of fruits and vegetables from such farms set up at public schools. Since such schools have expansive campuses, there is enough potential to utilize it effectively and turn them into biodiversity parks.
Changing attitudes of students towards preventing lifestyle diseases and conducting health and environment studies in the backdrop of the project are also being viewed by the administration through the programme.
Kerala was among the first states in the country to launch the midday meal programme in 1984, before the Centre made it compulsory in 1995.
In 2007-08, the programme in the state was extended to students up to class 8 in government and aided schools.
The government spends nearly Rs 600 crores annually for the programme, covering over 12000 schools and 25 lakh students.