Fighting hunger

Seven reasons why India needs eggs on the menu of midday meals

They're very nutritious, have a relative long shelf-life and could boost rural employment.

Last week, the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan rejected a proposal to introduce eggs on the menu of the Integrated Child Development Services scheme – even just on a trial basis in three tribal districts. This short primer responds to some of the questions being asked about whether and why we need eggs on the menu of two government programmes for child nutrition: the mid-day meal scheme and anganwadis (for pre-school children under the age of six).

1. Eggs are among the most nutritious food items
Here’s a comparison of the nutritive content of eggs and some vegetarian options of roughly similar cost. Need one say more?

One serving provides…

Source: % refers to recommended daily allowance met.

Note: Eggs are sometimes criticised for their fat content, but most young children in India need more fat. Aside from helping to raise calorie intake and facilitating the absorption of other nutrients, fat is important in its own right, for brain development, for example.

One more thing: though some vegetarian options can match eggs in protein content (for example, soya chunks) or calcium (for example, milk), there are none where all nutrients (vitamin A, iron, calcium and fat) are available from a single source.

If you’re still unconvinced, read Rohini Mohan’s piece in the Economic Times in which she talks to various experts or watch this episode of The Big Picture, where clinical nutritionist Ishi Khosla explains this in greater detail.

2. Other arguments in favour of eggs
Consider the following advantages of eggs: they have a longer shelf-life than milk or bananas. In rural areas, with decentralised kitchens and where refrigeration facilities are non-existent, this is a pretty useful thing. Eggs cannot be diluted or adulterated like milk or dals. Equally important, as Arti Ahuja (the IAS officer who brought the Integrated Child Development Services  to life in Odisha) pointed out, provision of eggs can be monitored easily. Even a child can tell you whether she got her full quota of eggs, so corruption is easier to control. Finally, eggs are hugely popular among school and anganwadi children. For instance, watch this video clip from a government school in Shimoga.

3. Indian children are undernourished and food intake is very poor
The last reliable all-India nutrition data dates back to 2005-'06. According to the third National Family Health Survey, every second child under the age of three is undernourished. This is relatively well known now. However, few people realise how poor dietary intake in India is. Among children aged 6 months-23 months (for whom breastmilk is to be supplemented with semi-solid foods), the National Family Health Survey finds, less than 15% consume milk products (such as yoghurt), or meat or eggs, or pulses on an average day (see table below). In the same age group, among those children who were no longer being breastfed, the numbers are slightly better but still under 20%.

Consumption of nutritious food by children aged 6 months-23 months the day or night before the NFHS (2005-'06) survey.

Source: Table 10.9, p. 283, National Family Health Survey India report.

4. A large majority of Indians are non-vegetarian: There is a widely held belief that a majority of Indians are vegetarians. However, as this article by Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar shows, “pure vegetarians” are a minority, only in one-fifth families were all members vegetarians. Nine percent were vegetarians who ate eggs. Nearly 70% families were non-vegetarians. According to the same survey, even in Madhya Pradesh, where the proportion of vegetarians is high, it is only 35%. Finally, there is the question of whether eggs are vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

5. Quite likely, some people are vegetarians out of compulsion rather than choice
Sometimes data on low consumption of non-vegetarian food (eggs, meat, fish, poultry) is interpreted as evidence of vegetarianism in India. In fact, this is likely a reflection, not of choice but compulsion. For instance, Rukmini S shows that monthly consumption of eggs is closely associated with income levels. This strengthens the argument for provision of more nutritious food through government programmes. Given that it is largely poorer children who enrol at government schools, the programme has an element of self-targeting.

6. Making a case for eggs, does not mean one is a meat-fundamentalists
One must recognise that the problem is not just the absence of eggs from the menu at schools and anganwadis. The menu is woefully lacking even in nutritious vegetarian options (such as milk, soyabean, bananas) in many states. Here is a beautiful photo-essay of school meals around the world. Many egg-resisters shout loudly about nutritious vegetarian substitutes for eggs, but fail to mention that in fact many northern and western states provide none of these. In any case, even if eggs are served, vegetarian options are (and ought to be) available for those who don’t want eggs.

7. Thinking about animal rights
Some groups have been opposing eggs as they are concerned about animal rights, especially the inhuman conditions in which chicken are reared. In fact, the same concern applies to milk too – calves are separated too early from their mothers, cows are given oxytocin injections and subjected to painful milking. The solution is not to stop consuming these items, but rather thinking about ethical solutions. For example, eggs could be procured from local women who rear free-range chicken on a small scale. That would even create employment opportunities for such women. In any case, as mentioned earlier, there is no compulsion as far as consumption of eggs is concerned.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.