Hyderabad: MFoods, a cellphone-based system, is helping deal with delays and management problems faced by a scheme to provide nutritious food to more than 3.5 million poor women and children in Andhra Pradesh.
The supplementary nutrition programme (SNP) for children under six years of age and pregnant and lactating women is implemented through 91,000 anganwadis (day-care centres). For long, it has been beset by problems in communication, processing, supply chain issues, lack of effective management information systems and leakages.
MFoods was conceived in May 2000 by Andhra Pradesh Foods (APFoods), a state government enterprise, and launched in June this year to plug these gaps.
Depending on the number of beneficiaries and quantity of food required at their respective centres, anganwadi workers place requests for food through SMS. Supply schedules are accordingly updated by the APFoods server and warehouses and transporters are alerted for delivery. When the delivery is done, anganwadi workers acknowledge the food items received through the cellphone. Meanwhile, the workers also receive alerts on the status of their requests. The centralized system keeps track of requests along with date and time. The supply chain is integrated with Google Maps to provide spatial views.
The National Informatics Centre (NIC) of the Union government’s department of information technology has built the technology for the mFoods project free of cost
“Earlier they used to send their indents as hard copies of the requirement of their food by post and then followed it by phone calls and faxes. This was found to be very cumbersome and also resulted in food gaps, because there were delays in receiving and responding to the indents,” said M. Chaya Ratan, special chief secretary, department for women, children, disabled and senior citizens, Andhra Pradesh. “So we came up with the idea that we need to have a much more efficient system of indenting and responding to such indents by the way of making timely supplies so that food could be distributed to the children without any food gaps.”
The National Informatics Centre (NIC) of the Union government’s department of information technology has built the technology for the mFoods project free of cost. NIC used free and open source technologies and an in-house mobile gateway was established to facilitate mobile communication. CERT-In has done the third-party security audit for the project.
The state is spending Rs 900 crore on SNP this fiscal, part of the Rs 1,726 crore being spent under the integrated child development scheme that aims to tackle malnutrition and health problems in children and women.
SNP aims to provide food containing 500 calories and 12-15g of protein to poor children till the age of six. Severely malnourished children are provided 800 calories and 20-25g protein, while pregnant and lactating women are given 600 calories and 18-20g protein. The state spends Rs 4-6 per child per day and Rs 5 per adult per day on food.
In the next phase, the state government wants to link the mFoods project with daily attendance reports at anganwadis. It is also trying to use identification systems to ensure that food is reaching its intended beneficiaries, and is even planning to give cellphones and laptops to anganwadi workers to make the process simpler.
“We need to train the anganwadi workers as they are not tech-savvy,” Ratan said. “Some of them are not very confident... I feel that with a little bit of training, everything will be consolidated.”