Food for Thought: Partnering to Provide Balanced Meals for Schoolchildren in India

By Arnab Das and Juhi Gupta

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All parents share the instinct to make sure their children are nourished, clothed, educated and happy. But when food is scarce and families are faced with poverty and hunger, daily survival becomes the primary instinct.

Child hunger is a real issue with which families around the world struggle every day. But these families are getting help, thanks to organizations like the Akshaya Patra Foundation in Jaipur, India. The foundation is the world’s largest not-for-profit Mid-day Meal Program, serving wholesome food to more than 1.4 million schoolchildren a year. That’s quite a feat, one that the organization couldn’t accomplish without strategic partnerships.

In 2010, Akshaya Patra launched a partnership with the Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of our company, to create a free school lunch program that provides meals for 150,000 children daily in 1,400 government schools. For some of these kids, it’s their only meal of the day.

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Echoing the time-tested “teach-a-man-to-fish” parable, Akshaya Patra used a grant from the Monsanto Fund to create a kitchen garden to grow food for school lunches. This is no small backyard garden, but rather a 15-acre area devoted to growing vegetables that are packed with vitamins and minerals, including carrots, beetroot, broccoli, spinach and okra. These nutritious foods are often not available at local markets.

Nutrition and education are closely linked. Well-fed children are better able to concentrate and learn at school. In Jaipur, the effects of nutritional deficiencies – like anemia, eye infections, swollen and bleeding gums and skin infections – are all too common. That’s another reason the Mid-day Meal Program is so important, providing hot meals prepared with freshly grown vegetables. The initiative has resulted in a marked increase in school attendance as children’s health has improved.

But a healthier, better-educated child is not the only benefit of the Mid-day Meal Program. Hundreds of farmers from neighboring villages are directly involved in the project as well. Akshaya Patra enables them to grow seedlings in its greenhouse, which results in better harvests for the farmers. Their produce is then bought at market price by the organization. Participating farmers have increased their incomes by about 15 percent. Plus, the schoolchildren are also learning what it takes to be the farmers of the future.

As a company, Monsanto is dedicated to working with others around the world to make balanced meals accessible to all. We’re working in Africa to improve corn harvests and fight plant disease that can devastate harvests; in Vietnam to help farmers create better livelihoods for their families; and in the United States with local food banks to help make sure that the 3 million rural families that struggle to put food on their tables have enough to eat.

Our children are our future – the scientists, world leaders, teachers, business owners and farmers of tomorrow. By working to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges today, we help ensure that they, in turn, will be able to help feed, clothe and educate a global population of more than 9.6 billion by the year 2050.

To learn more about how we work and collaborate to help farmers grow enough food while using resources more efficiently, check the Monsanto 2015 Sustainability Report: Growing Better Together.

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