Why We Do What We Do – Project Annadanam
Project Annadanam was born out of a sincerely held belief that everyone has a right to the basic necessities of life and that the society has a responsibility to take care of the poor and the destitute.
The project plans to enable access to clean, safe, and nutritious cooked food to the urban destitute in major Indian cities. We use food vans running fixed routes in cities to procure cooked food from volunteers/donors and distribute the food at locations where the urban destitute congregate.
Understanding The Problem
Hunger in India is widespread and visible, with newspaper reports of people scavenging in garbage bins for food occasionally shaking up our collective conscience. The World Bank’s World Development Indicators highlight that approx. 200 MN Indians are undernourished. 48% of women of reproductive age and 59% of children under 5 are anaemic. Three out of ten children under the age of 5 are underweight and 4 out of ten are stunted.
The Global Hunger Index, 2017 published by the International Food Policy Research Institute places India 97th in a list of 118 countries classified under ‘serious concern’ category. The rank is worse than nearly all of India’s neighbours including China (29), Nepal (72), Myanmar (75), Sri Lanka (84) and Bangladesh (90), except for Pakistan (107). India’s index score of 28.5 is significantly worse than the developing country average score of 21.3. The report estimates that at current levels of reduction in hunger, by 2030, an estimated 45 countries (including India) are still likely to have ‘moderate’ to ‘alarming’ levels of hunger.
Malnutrition and hunger are self-perpetuating challenges. Dietary Guidelines for Indians, published by the Indian Institute of Nutrition, state that about 22% of infants are born with low birth weight, primarily due to maternal malnutrition, often due to undernutrition during the conception stage. Persistent undernutrition during childhood, in turn, leads to short stature in adulthood. 33% of men and 36% of women in India have a Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 18.5, which indicates Chronic Energy Deficiency.
Available evidence highlights that stunted children enrol later in school, perform poorly, and complete fewer grades. This, in turn, leads to reduced capabilities and income earning capacities in adult life and perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hunger. With a significant proportion of its children malnourished and stunted, India faces the challenge of a population explosion with a significantly diminished capacity to bank on that demographic dividend.
Dietary Guidelines for Indians states that protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A deficiency, iron deficiency anaemia, iodine deficiency disorders, and vitamin B-complex disorders are commonly encountered, especially among the rural poor and urban slum dwellers. Daily intake of all food groups except cereals is less than the recommended dietary allowances. The average consumption of pulses and legumes which are important sources of protein was less than 50% of the recommended dietary allowance. Consumption of green leafy vegetables and other vegetables is inadequate. Intake of visible fat was also less than 50% of recommended dietary allowance.
We understand that hunger is not a standalone challenge. The causes, nature, and impact of hunger is certainly multidimensional. However, we believe that the first step in addressing hunger and malnutrition is certainly ensuring access to clean, safe, nutritious and balanced cooked food to those who are deprived. This, in turn, is likely to lead not just to better health, but to even better economic outputs for the beneficiaries, potentially offering an opportunity to overcome the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty.
Project Annadanam focuses on the urban poor. Large Indian cities are our focus locations given the severity of the challenge and the fact that the urban destitute is typically excluded from the current initiatives to combat hunger.
Increased rural-to-urban migration also exacerbates the challenges in cities. According to the 2011 report of the High-Powered Expert Committee established under the Ministry of Urban Development, rural to urban migration is expected to contribute to 20-25% of an increase in urban population in India.
Our target segments will be the homeless as well as slum dwellers as they are the most vulnerable among the urban poor.
One key segment that is excluded from most initiatives which seek to address hunger is the urban homeless. As per census 2011, 1.8 Mn people or 450,000 households are homeless in India. 53% of the homeless are in urban India. 270,000 children under the age of 6 are also homeless. In a survey covering five cities, one-third of street children surveyed indicated that they went hungry at least once during the past week. A survey in Delhi also found that the homeless spent 55% of their daily income on food. These numbers highlight the sheer scale of the challenge as well as the urgency of the need.
In addition, data as per ‘Slums in India, A Statistical Compendium, 2015’ published by National Buildings Organisation, the nodal agency under Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, 65.5 Mn people or 13.9 Mn households live in urban slums. This is equivalent to 17.4% of the urban population and 5.4% of the population of the country. Out of 4041 statutory towns, 2613 towns/cities have reported slums. In the 2613 towns/cities which reported slums, 22.4% of the population lives in slums.
25.09 Mn slum dwellers live in Mn plus cities, which account for 38.3% of all slum dwellers in India. Six municipal corporations including Greater Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Nagpur, Hyderabad, and Chennai account for 20% of the total slum population in the country and 50.7 % of the slum population in all million-plus cities in the country. However, only 24% of the slums have benefited from government welfare schemes. 5.4% of the slum population do not have a facility for cooking inside the house and an additional 0.5% do not have access to any cooking facilities. In a 2012 study measuring food insecurity of urban poor households in Mumbai, 59.7% of slum households were categorised as severely food insecure and 16.6% were categorised as moderately food insecure.
These numbers, while stark, also point out that there is potential to deliver high impact by targeting a limited number of large Indian cities.
Our food vans deliver food at places where the urban poor congregate – religious places, slums, pavements, parks, hospitals etc. within their assigned food routes so that we can effectively and target our services to the urban destitute who are our target beneficiaries.
Why Project Annadanam?
A 2014 report by The Perryman Group looked at the economic benefits of food banks and the charitable food distribution network in the US. The report estimated that one dollar invested in the process results in $33.27 in incremental spending, $15.82 in an additional gross product, and $10.31 in additional income.
These benefits are primarily due to reduced health care spending, reduction in income loss due to a prevalence of disease, and ability to redirect earnings into education. Benefits to the economy also arise due to an increased ability of the beneficiaries to spend, and direct impact of economic activity of charitable food networks and food banks including job creation. This points to the fact that charitable food distribution, in addition to addressing issues of hunger, and nutrition, can also have a significant economic impact. We believe that since our model is similar and inspired from the food bank and charitable food distribution network, Project Annadanam would have similar areas of impact.
The figure provided above offers a theory of change pertaining to the potential for Project Annadanam to positively impact the lives of its beneficiaries.
Access to clean, safe, and nutritious food is expected to have positive health, educational, and economic impacts.
Access to food reduces the spending on food for the urban destitute, enabling the funds to be redeployed for economic opportunities, leading to better earnings. Funds might also be redeployed for children’s education leading to better educational attainment and resultant improvement in lifetime earnings.
Access to nutritious food can also potentially reduce nutritional deficiencies, leading to reduced incidence and severity of a disease. This, in turn, can reduce health spending which means funds can be redeployed for economic opportunities or children’s education. Reduced incidence and severity of the disease can also lead to better work productivity, improving earning potential. Reduced nutritional deficiencies along with decreased incidence and severity of the disease can also improve educational attainment.
That is why we believe that a simple act, that of offering one meal a day to a person can result in contributing significantly to improve the overall stability and welfare of the urban destitute.