• Recently, the central government requested state governments/union territory administrations to explore the possibility of introducing millets under the PM POSHAN Scheme preferably in the districts where eating millets is a culturally accepted food habit.
  • NITI Aayog has also been advocating the need to introduce millets in the mid-day meal programme (now PM POSHAN Scheme), moving away from rice and wheat.

Benefits of Millets

  • 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.
  • Multidimensional benefits associated with millets can address the issues related to nutrition security, food systems security, and farmers’ welfare.
  • Further, many unique features linked with millets makes them a suitable crop which is resilient to India’s varied agro-climatic conditions.
  • India pushed a resolution to declare 2023 as the international year of millets which has been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

Poshan Scheme

  • In September 2021, the Union Cabinet approved the Pradhan MantriPoshan Shakti Nirman or PM-POSHAN for providing one hot cooked meal in Government and Government-aided schools with the financial outlay of Rs 1.31 trillion.
  • The scheme replaced the national programme for mid-day meal in schools or Mid-day Meal Scheme.
  • It has been launched for an initial period of five years (2021-22 to 2025-26).

PM Poshan Scheme

  • Primary (1-5) and upper primary (6-8) schoolchildren are currently entitled to 100 grams and 150 grams of food grains per working day each, to ensure a minimum of 700 calories.
  • It also covers students of balvatikas (children in the 3-5 year age group) from pre-primary classes.
  • Use of locally-grown nutritional food items will be encouraged from “school nutrition gardens” for boosting the local economic growth, and will also include involvement of Farmers Producer Organizations (FPO) and Women Self Help Groups in the implementation of the scheme.
  • The scheme has a provision for supplementary nutrition for children in aspirational districts and those with high prevalence of anaemia.
  • It does away with the restriction on the part of the Centre to provide funds only for wheat, rice, pulses and vegetables.
  • Currently, if a state decides to add any component like milk or eggs to the menu, the Centre does not bear the additional cost. Now that restriction has been lifted.

Nutrition Expert:

  • A nutrition expert is to be appointed in each school whose responsibility is to ensure that health aspects such as Body Mass Index (BMI), weight and haemoglobin levels are addressed.
  • A social audit of the scheme has also been mandated for each school in each state to study the implementation of the scheme, which was so far not being done by all states.

Need for Introducing Millets

  • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5, India has unacceptably high levels of stunting, despite marginal improvement over the years.
  • In 2019-21, 35.5% of children below five years were stunted and 32.1% were underweight.
  • According to the Global Nutrition Report (GNR, 2021), India has made no progress on anaemia and childhood wasting.
  • Over 17% of Indian children under 5 years of age are affected due to childhood wasting.
  • The data in NFHS 2019-21 shows the highest spike in anaemia was reported among children aged 6-59 months from 67.1% (NFHS-5) from 58.6% (NFHS-4, 2015-16).
  • India ranks 116 out of 174 countries on the human capital index.
  • Human capital consists of the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives, enabling them to realize their potential as productive members of society.

Way Forward

  • Looking at this data related to the nutrition of children, it is imperative to push for convergence of health and nutrition programmes right from pregnancy until the child reaches five years of age.
  • A well-planned and effective Social and Behavioural Change Communication (SBCC) strategy is essential since behaviours are ingrained in society and in family traditions.

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