Lucknow: Students of government schools in Uttar Pradesh may soon be served millets in the mid-day meals at least once a week to provide them with better nutrition.
The year 2023 has been designated as the 'International Year of Millets' after a proposal for the same was brought forward by the Government of India and endorsed by members of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) Governing Bodies, as well as by the 75th session of the UN General Assembly.
Director General School Education in Uttar Pradesh Vijay Kiran Anand said, "We will soon have a meeting with Union government officials regarding the introduction of millets in mid-day meals."
The Mid Day Meal Authority of Uttar Pradesh, responsible for providing mid-day meals in government and aided schools from class 1 to 8, has proposed to the Union government that students in 1.42 lakh schools across the state be served a millet-based meal.
According to the plan, students will either be served chapatis or khichdi made of bajra in mid-day meals. The dish will be accompanied by either vegetables or moong dal.
For this, the Mid Day Meal Authority needs to procure an estimated 62,000 metric tonnes of millet. Currently, wheat or rice-based dishes are served with vegetables or proteins to children six days a week. Uttar Pradesh Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi had recently announced plans to include millets in the mid-day meal programme.
FCI To provide millets for midday meal programme
The state government has also sent a proposal to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for providing millets for the mid-day meal programme. If the proposal is cleared by the Union government and the required quantity is procured, the plan will be put into effect soon after the summer vacations, education department officials said.
As of now, the total budget for mid-day meals in Uttar Pradesh is around ₹ 3,000 crore. The Union government bears 60 per cent of the cost and the rest is borne by the state. According to experts, millets are dense in nutrients as well as essential compounds and make for a better food option than wheat or rice.
Poornima Kapoor, a Lucknow-based dietician, said, "Millets are currently not a food option in our homes. So, it will be a challenge to introduce millets as a meal for children in schools, especially because of their different taste and texture." Considering this, the state government has tasked teachers with spreading awareness among students about the benefits of millets.
"Teachers have been suggested to undertake several interactive activities to make students aware of the benefits of millets. This will certainly increase the acceptability of the grains among them," an education department official said. The Uttar Pradesh government has also announced that it will spend more than ₹ 110 crore to promote the production and consumption of millets in the state this year.
"The programme to promote the production and consumption of millets in the state will be run till 2027. Introduction of millets in mid-day meals is also part of this effort," said Jagdish Kumar, the joint director of agriculture (planning). According to agriculture department data, Uttar Pradesh produces around 19.5 lakh metric tonnes of millets in 53 of its 75 districts.