'NUTRITION RIGHTS COALITION' Maharashtra
Poor acceptability, inadequate nutrition intake raise questions on the effectiveness of the ‘Take Home Ration’ scheme; reveals Report
A study conducted by the Nutrition Rights Coalition to assess the ‘Take Home Ration’ scheme in comparison with the provision of cooked meals, in four districts of Maharashtra
Mumbai, 07th January 2014: A detailed study conducted by the Nutrition Rights Coalition, Maharashtra and supported by the Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation was revealed at a recently held press conference. The study brought to light that the government’s ‘Take Home Ration’ (THR) scheme for children below three years of age is not appropriate due to very poor acceptability and low nutrition intake related to this commercially produced packaged food supplement.
The study assessed the quality of supplementary nutrition provided to children below the age of three, comparing the effectiveness of THR packets vs. cooked food in terms of distribution, usage, nutritional value and nutritional status of the children. This study was conducted in four districts of Maharashtra i.e. Pune, Nandurbar, Gadchiroli (the districts where THR is distributed) and Amravati (the district where cooked food is distributed) covering a total of 15 villages and 211 children.
Dr. Vandana Prasad who presided the event as the chief guest quoted “The government and its departments are investing in numerous schemes and programs for social development. We appreciate the efforts of the Nutrition Rights Coalition in bringing to notice the discrepancies in the THR scheme. Modifications should be made to ensure that supplementary nutrition for under-3 children is appropriate and effective”.
In terms of the regularity of the supply, cooked meals far outweigh THR packets as the overall availability of THR packets was only 53 percent of the total requirement. Out of the required supply of three packets per month, 60 percent mothers reported that they received on an average only two packets of THR per month, and 40 percent mothers received only one packet per month during the last three months. On the other hand, all the respondents from Amravati reported that they received hot cooked meals i.e. khichdi and matki usal from the Anganwadis regularly.
Also, the poor quality of THR packets contrasts with better usage and consumption of cooked meals. During the span of a week, it was found that only 11 percent children in the THR districts were frequent users of the packaged food, while88 percent of children from Amravati frequently consumed the hot meals made available by the government. THR upma is often found to be bitter in taste (69.4 percent) and very salty (22.4 percent). Most of the respondents recommended that except for shira, the supply of all other THR packets should be discontinued. Among the families that reported that their children were not consuming THR, 79 percent stated that they use the THR packets instead of feed for their domestic animals.
The effective nutritive value of THR in terms of the actual consumption by children was found to be much lower than the nutritive value of cooked food consumed. The average protein intake due to THR was found to be about one-third of that due to cooked meals, and the average calorie intake due to THR was less than half of that due to cooked meals.
The nutritional status of children in THR areas was found to be poorer compared to the nutrition of children in areas where cooked food is served. The prevalence of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in villages where THR is being supplied was 5.7 percent, which is twice as high as severe acute malnutrition in areas where cooked food is being supplied (2.8 percent).
In the overall analysis, the findings suggest that for children below three years of age, cooked food is a much better form of supplementary nutrition rather than THR packets in terms of acceptability, consumption, effective calorie and protein content, and reduction of severe malnutrition.
Dr. Arun Gadre, Member, Nutrition Rights Coalition, Maharashtra, said, “Our study has clearly shown that acceptability and nutritive intake of THR packets is much lower than hot cooked food. Therefore we recommend stopping of commercial THR packets and providing daily hot cooked meals or locally produced dry, nutritious food instead."
Despite the positive impression of cooked meals, it was noticed that there is scope for improvement even in cooked meals. Khichdi is generally prepared without adding oil and with very little dal, hence it is not tasty and the children eat lesser quantities of it. In the absence of oil, there is almost no fat content and therefore it may not fulfill the required calorific requirement. Also, khichdi and usal are not very appropriate for children below nine months of age.
The research report has given some recommendations to improve the efficacy of this scheme. The government should replace THR packets with provision of cooked food including adequate dal, oil and vegetables. The menu should have more variety to ensure better acceptability among children, and special meals should be arranged for kids under one year of age. In situations where dry packaged food is required, instead of commercial private companies providing THR, this responsibility should be given to local groups and their quality may be monitored by communities. The report has also suggested that regular feedback should be taken from the mothers’ groups, Village Health Nutrition Sanitation Committee members and civil society organizations about the quality and acceptability of supplementary foods and modifications should be made accordingly.
Leni Chaudhuri, Programme Head, Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation said, “There is an urgent need to augment the food basket delivered through the ICDS program. While the take home ration is an option forremote and inaccessible areas, the food has to be culturally appropriate. The THR is also not adapted according to the requirements of children under three years of age who cannot come to the Anganwadi Centers. Hope this study will provide greater insights into the problem.”
About the Nutrition Rights Coalition
The 'Nutrition Rights Coalition' is a coalition of civil society organizations working on Nutrition Rights in Maharashtra in the rural areas of Nandurbar, Pune, Gadchiroli and Amravati districts and the urban areas of Nagpur and Mumbai.