Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Technology Solution for Hunger: Akshaya Patra

Studies report more undernourished children in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. "Give me fish and you feed me for a day; teach me how to fish and you feed me for life" is the mantra for education providers and in recent years, Internet and computer technologies have done much to improve education across the world. But how well do I learn if my stomach is empty? As in the US, the Indian government provides funds for school lunches but unlike the US, those funds are inadequate as well as ineffective. Technology has no immediate answer for hunger; or so I thought till I heard about Akshay Patra and their school lunch program. The Akshaya Patra Foundation has applied technology for efficient meal production by automating large scale kitchens and their meal delivery system involves innovative logistics using custom designed vehicles to transport food from the kitchens to schools according to a strict schedule with optimal storage and minimal spillage. Hence, they have quickly scaled to feeding over one million children every day from a start of 1500 in just a few years. This technology (kitchen video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQYc8WH9Srs) has resulted in improved attendance and education according to an AC Nielsen survey. What distinguishes Akshaya Patra from other midday meal programs is that the entire food production and delivery system is intelligently designed and engineered to maximize operational and cost efficiency, while adhering to international standards of hygiene and quality. This makes the government funds they get for raw food-grains go much further and cuts out the middle man. Obama has recognised their unique approach: "Your example of using advanced technologies in central kitchens to reach children in 5,700 schools is an imaginative approach that has the potential to serve as a model for other countries." Additionally, they have been able to extend their approach to rural areas where transportation is more expensive and infrastructure minimal, by using smaller kitchens thus providing employment to women who cook meals. Catch the people of Akshaya Patra at Tiecon 2009 in San Jose and be part of the solution.