Bengaluru: The Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme, with over 91 million beneficiaries in Government and Government-aided schools, is one of the most extensive child nutrition programmes in the world. The objective of the programme is to address classroom hunger and malnutrition among school-going children. The MDM Scheme also incentivises education and gives a boost to enrolment and attendance rates. It simultaneously curbs dropout rates in beneficiary schools across the country.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation is one of the implementing partners of the Government’s Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme. It began nineteen years ago by feeding 1500 children of five schools in one city. Today, Akshaya Patra serves 1.8 million children in 16,856 schools across 12 states and two union territories of India on every school day, known to be the largest NGO-run school-lunch programme in the world. The Foundation commemorated the serving of 3 billion cumulative meals in February 2019.
From preparation of meals during inception to large-scale feeding, today the use of technology has proven to be crucial to Akshaya Patra. The organisation has leveraged technology to increase its reach to millions of children across the country. State-of-the-art technology equips Akshaya Patra’s centralised kitchens to prepare thousands of hot, safe, nutritious, and tasty meals in a few hours while ensuring that the highest standards of safety and quality are maintained. Currently, the organisation operates 49 centralised kitchens across the country.
In Akshaya Patra’s centralised kitchens, operations are managed from a single point of control; this includes receiving, storage, preparation, delivery, maintenance, and other processes that form the cycle of the organisation’s mid-day meal operations. These semi-automated kitchens are equipped with cauldrons, trolleys, rice chutes, etc., and can undertake large scale feeding, typically up to 100,000 mid-day meals in just under four hours. Akshaya Patra employs roti-making machines in many of its kitchens. These machines are capable of producing up to 60,000 rotis per hour.
After cooking, the food is packed into stainless steel containers and transported via conveyor belts to be loaded into custom made food distribution vehicles, to be taken to the beneficiary schools. Delivering the hot and wholesome meals to children on time is of utmost importance to Akshaya Patra.
Its custom-designed vehicles safely deliver cooked food to schools according to a strict schedule, with optimal storage and minimal spillage. These vehicles are enabled with Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS tracking provides real-time information on the vehicles’ movement, stoppage, and over speeding. It also helps with route optimisation. There is an alternate delivery mechanism in place, wherein vehicles on standby are deployed in case of any mechanical failure in the primary delivery vehicle.
Also Read: What Ails India’s Mid-Day Meal Programme?
To integrate all aspects of its operations including production, distribution, maintenance, inventory management, and administration, the organisation utilises Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)–a computer-based operations management system. Akshaya Patra also employs Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools to manage donations–seek potential donors, and drive and monitor the donation process.
The organisation has Food Safety and Quality (FSQC) labs in Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Jigani, Visakhapatnam, Hubballi, Bhilai, Guwahati, Nathdwara, Bhuj, and Bhavnagar. These state-of-the-art food safety labs are equipped with the latest technology and high-precision testing instruments to facilitate the evaluation of products ranging from raw materials to cooked meals. These labs help the organisation ensure food safety and improve the health of children by maintaining nutritional levels as per MDM guidelines.
Akshaya Patra also has a mobile food testing lab–a vehicle equipped to conduct onsite analysis, quality monitoring, adulteration analysis of raw materials, etc. This lab, which is the organisation’s first mobile lab, also helps ensure the quality and hygiene of mid-day meals.
In a pilot initiative launched in Bengaluru, Karnataka, Akshaya Patra applied technologies such as blockchain, data analytics, and Internet of Things (IoT) to four critical processes–monitoring meal production, tracking food delivery, collecting school feedback, and measuring the quantity of food and supplies to be purchased. During this pilot, the organisation deployed digital thermometers to measure the temperature of the food, handheld devices to digitally collect feedback on the meals from all stakeholders, a predictive analytics tool to determine the potential demand in a day, based on historical data of student attendance and so on.
Akshaya Patra is an apt illustration of the efficient use of technology in the mid-day meal sector, benefitting millions of children every school day for nearly two decades now. Preparation and serving of mid-day meals on a large scale with effective use of technology have not only helped Akshaya Patra establish a template for operating all its kitchens, but has also set a new direction for all other organisations and agencies that work in the mid-day meal sector. Applying technology to serve nutritious food to millions of school-going children could be the transformation that India needs to nurture the generations that will shape the future of the country.
About the Authors:
Sridhar Pabbisetty, Chief Enabler, Centre for Inclusive Governance
Ajay Kavishwar – Director, Programme Research & Advocacy, Akshaya Patra Foundation
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.