The Niti Aayog’s development monitoring and evaluation office (DMEO) has stressed on the “necessity” to strengthen the composition, production, coverage and consumption of the take-home ration (THR) provided to pregnant and lactating mothers as well as children in the age group of 6–36 under the integrated child development Scheme (ICDS).
In a recent report, it has recommended that the use of THR component of the supplementary nutrition programme (SNP) under the ICDS must be “optimized” to improve its impact on nutritional outcomes.
“As identified in recent research efforts and program experiences, several challenges remain in ensuring that the ICDS THR is effective in its quality, reach and impact…. To optimize the use of THR, it is essential to take steps in the direction of strengthening its composition, production, coverage and consumption,” the Aayog’s DMEO noted in a 140-page report on the progress of the government’s Poshan Abhiyan during October 2019 to April 2020.
On the composition and quality of the THR, it noted that evidence suggests the nutrient content and food composition of the foods offered within ICDS, specifically foods offered to children 6–36 months of age, need to be “reviewed and revised.”
“Given the variability across India, it is also crucial to test different formulations of THR or associated commodities, such as eggs, for their ability to meet the critical nutrient gaps in the diets of infants in ways that also address safety, palatability, and acceptability,” it suggested.
The report underlined the pros and cons of the THR production modalities, observing that majority of the states have a centralized model for the production of THR.
“The key opportunities in the centralized model are lower production cost, high-quality product with high nutrient value and quality assurance/quality control. The challenges of this model include pilferage, leakage, need for efficient transport arrangements and product acceptability,” it observed.
In the case of the decentralized model followed in just nine states, the report has noted, procurement of food from local sources, promotion of income-generation activities, women’s empowerment and enhanced community ownership are the key opportunities. But, the challenges of this model are limited quality control, higher cost of production and challenges with fortification, the report added.
“Since SNP has a targeted value chain backed by the State, it has the potential for impact on nutritional outcomes at scale. There is a scope for public-private partnerships and a role for private business engagement in improving nutrition outcomes,” the Aayog’s DMEO has suggested in its report.
It appreciated the State private-cooperative sector partnership model in Tamil Nadu and a State enterprise dedicated to manufacturing pro-nutrition agri-foods to address undernutrition through government food distribution programmes in Telangana, saying both have lessons to offer for other States to emulate and adopt for delivery under the nationally-mandated food distribution program.
“An examination of the value chain of SNP under ICDS in the States of Tamil Nadu and Telangana, suggests innovative pathways for consideration,” the DMEO added in its report.