Poultry is one of the fastest growing segments of the agricultural sector in India today. Over the last four decades, the local industry in India has made tremendous progress, emerging from an entirely unorganised farming practice to an organised intensive commercial production system using state-of-the-art technology.
Expansion of poultry production in India is being driven by a combination of factors - rising per capita income, a growing urban population and increasing awareness of balanced nutrition. Besides these factors, the Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDM), an activity undertaken by the Indian government, has emerged as a key growth driver for the Indian poultry industry.
The MDM is the popular name for the school meal programme in India. It involves provision of lunch served free of charge to schoolchildren on all school days. It is possibly the largest school lunch programme in the world, and covered some 110 million children in the year 2008-09.
The midday meal in schools has had a long history in India. In 1925, a midday meal programme was introduced for disadvantaged children by the Madras Municipal Corporation.
By the mid-1980s, three states - Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Kerala and the union territory of Puducherry - had universalized a cooked midday meal programme with their own resources. By 1990-91, the number of states implementing a midday meal programme on a large scale had increased to 12; the programme implemented using state resources in combination with international assistance.
The success of the scheme was so spectacular that the government of India, in August 1995, launched the “National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education” (NP-NSPE), also known as the MDM, as a centrally sponsored scheme, initially in 2,408 areas in the country. By 1997-98, the NP-NSPE was introduced countrywide.
In 2002, it was further expanded to cover, not only children in classes I to V of government, government-aided and local body schools, but also children studying in Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative and Innovative Education (AIE) centres. Since 2007-08, a midday meal is also being served to the children of upper primary classes (VI to VIII).
Apart from enhancing school attendance and child nutrition, the midday meal scheme has an important social value that fosters equality. As children learn to sit together and share a common meal, one can expect some erosion of caste prejudices and class inequality as a consequence.
Eggs and the MDM
The introduction of a boiled egg into the midday meal was initiated in the state of Tamil Nadu in 1989. From July 2006, two boiled eggs were provided every week per child. Since July 2007, this was increased to three eggs a week - every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Tamil Nadu. Primary school dropout rates have fallen as a result of the supply of eggs in the mid-day meal scheme in the state.
Considering the success in Tamil Nadu, many other states have included eggs in the midday meal menu. Amongst the total 28 states and seven union territories in India, seven states and two union territories have provided eggs in the midday meal in 2008-09, where over 990 million eggs, i.e. about 2% of the total eggs produced in the country, were served to children under the scheme.
Midday meal projections for 2009-10
Based on Programme Approval Board (PAB) approval, over 117 million children will participate in the scheme during 2009-10 in the country. Considering the frequency of supplying eggs in the menu of those nine states and union territories, and average working days as per the PAB approval; over 996 million eggs would be required to serve 21.81 millions children during the year.
Egg - the choice for the MDM
Eggs can make significant contributions to a healthy midday meal. The egg is a nutrient-dense food, containing high quality protein and a wide range of essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Egg protein is of high biological value as it contains all the essential amino acids required by the human body.
Eggs contain most of the required vitamins with the exception of vitamin C. They are a good source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. The egg is also a good source of all the B vitamins, and a particularly rich source of vitamins B12 and B2 and a useful source of folic acid.
The egg contains most of the minerals that the human body requires for health. In particular, it is an excellent source of iodine that is required for the production of thyroid hormone; calcium and phosphorus that are required for bone and teeth health. It is a significant source of selenium, an important antioxidant and provides some zinc that is important for wound healing, growth and fighting infection. The egg also contains iron, the vital ingredient of red blood cells.
Adulteration of the egg is not a concern and thus helps fulfill the objectives of healthy nutrition. Eggs are also comparatively economical compared to vegetable protein sources. Moreover, boiled eggs are convenient, especially while serving a large group, and only 48g of the edible portion of a boiled egg can provide 50% and 30% of the specified protein quantity in a midday meal for the children of primary and upper primary classes, respectively.
MDM – A key opportunity to accelerate egg production
Although, over 996 millions eggs will be consumed in midday meals during 2009-10, there is still a vast opportunity for future growth. At present, only 9 states and union territories have included eggs in the MDM covering only 19% students. Moreover, barring Tamil Nadu, other egg serving states and union territories provide only 0.5-2 eggs per week per child. Tamil Nadu provides the maximum number of eggs, i.e. three weekly per child. Hence, there is tremendous opportunity for growth in the consumption of eggs as part of the MDM.
The success of the MDM in Tamil Nadu is illustrated by the tremendous increase in the school participation and completion rates. Considering the nutritional advantages of eggs and looking at the positive results of supplying three eggs per week per child in Tamil Nadu, if another eight states and union territories also increased the frequency of supplying eggs in midday meals to three per week per child, there would be additional demand for more than 1 billion eggs annually.
Furthermore, inclusion of some more states and union territories in this list would accelerate the demand that would results in huge expansion of the layer population in the country.