You’re reading Envirofit India’s mini-series Communities of Change. In this instalment, we look at our community stove, the PCS 12- AGHANYA™ (the name means: Born of Fire). To learn more about Envirofit India’s impact read the other stories in this series here and here.
By Priya Thyagaraj, Director – Communications and Social Media, and the Envirofit Intl Comms team
Bright-eyed and curious, and with her hair neatly oiled and braided with red ribbons, Sunita is one of several girls lining up for lunch at her school. Her parents, both day laborers, send her to their local government school armed with ‘roti’ (Indian bread) and a bottle of water. Her school supplements her bread, providing a hot and nutritious meal each day that she otherwise would not get.
What does it take to feed 113 million children like Sunita each day, across a million schools in India?
Mid-Day Meal programs in India have been, since their early beginnings in Tamil Nadu in 1925, addressing the problem of hunger and undernourishment. India has made significant progress in this area over the last two decades, dropping, in the Global Hunger Index, from 46.2 (1992) to 31.4 (2017). That said, the GHI still ranks India in the ‘serious’ category, based on factors including undernourishment, mortality rates for children under 5, and child undernutrition.
According to the Global Hunger Index 2017 annual report, 14.5% of India’s population of 1.32 billion still don’t have enough to eat each day. Children are an especial concern, and to address this, mid-day meal programs were first launched in 1962-63, with Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu being the first state governments to begin these programs at scale in the mid-1980’s. A national Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) for schoolchildren in government and government-aided schools, came into effect in 1995.
These programs serve a free lunch to children who attend a government supported primary or upper-primary school; the goal is to enhance school enrolment, retention and attendance while improving nutritional levels.
Cooking for 113 Million Children
In 2017 the Indian government provided food to 1.14 million schools, but left preparing it up to them. Cooking that many meals requires a lot of fuel that each school has to provide. Based on published reports from the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, 63% of MDMS schools still cook with firewood, often on outdated, inefficient cookstoves. These old stoves work like larger versions of the chulha, the small mud stoves found in homes throughout India that fill kitchens with smoke and waste up to 85% of the energy they produce. Though feeding millions of children this way inefficiently utilizes forests and other resources, the MDMS program serves a very real need – for many low-income families this is often the only meal their children receive during the day.
“School lunch programs operate on a very tight budget, doing their best to provide a nutritious meal for children who otherwise may not get enough to eat,” said Atul Joshi, Envirofit India’s Director – Sales.
In response to this need, school kitchens throughout India have purchased Envirofit India’s India’s PCS-12 AGHANYA. The PCS-12 is an institutional stove that saves schools up to 80% on fuel costs and can economically feed up to 400 people at a time. A forced-draft stove, the PCS-12 features an external fan that injects air into the combustion chamber. This increases fuel efficiency while helping it quickly reach optimal cooking temperature, which saves time and money while greatly reducing smoke.
The AGHANYA is a versatile stove, using wood, pellets, cow dung cakes, briquettes and coconut husks to create a powerful, consistent burn. Made of stainless steel and iron, the AGHANYA is sturdily built and, depending in the fuel used, achieves cost savings of 60-80%.
“I remember the first time I watched a meal being prepared on the AGHANYA.” says Joshi with a smile. “It was part of a school lunch program and we were cooking for 150 young students whose parents could perhaps afford to send them to school with water and two pieces of chapatti (bread). Watching them eat well lifted my spirits that day.”
Lunch for 174 Chimbali
Art of Living is a group that runs schools for children from lower-income families in various parts of the country and participates in the MDMS. Their decision to purchase the AGHANYA for the Shree Shree Gyanmandir School in Chimbali, Maharashtra, is one they’re very happy with. We had a chance to visit Shree Shree Gyanmandir and see the impact first-hand.
Cooking lunch when we arrive is Ratanmala. She is a tall, lithe and lively woman. A volunteer with Art of Living, she also holds a paid position cooking for the school’s 174 children each day.
“I’m used to this,” she laughs, adding “I used to cook for family from a very young age.”
She asks us to help her get today’s cookfire going by adding coconut husks and wood. We gladly pitch in. With the fire lit, Ratanmala sets a large pot on top of the flame and begins to add her ingredients for Matki, a lentil dish local to the state of Maharashtra, and today’s menu option.
As we watch, she adds washed Matki (moth beans), turmeric and other spices, and salt to taste. A quick stir with a large spoon and the pot is left to come to boil. A few stirs and 30 minutes later the lentils are ready to eat.
Before it can be served, the meal must be carried to the school. With an agility and strength that both astonishes and delights, Ratanmala fills a large container with the Matki and swings it up to rest on a pad on her head, before striding off to the school a half-mile away.
When we arrive at the school, we see bright-eyed, and vocal, children everywhere. Art of Living runs this school from kindergarten through to the fifth grade, providing education, stationery, uniforms and lunch. These benefits are provided free of cost to the students, whose families are primarily farmers and workers. Lunch is served once the teachers have taste-tested and approved the meal, and for a few minutes silence reigns as the formerly vocal children tuck in to plates of hot Matki.
Lunch for 1,500 in Manipur
A residential school in the Northeastern state of Manipur with 1,500 students was spending over Rs. 1,00,000 (USD $1,500.00) a month on firewood. Encouraged to try the PCS-12 AGHANYA, the school ordered a single unit at first, then purchased their second stove soon after. Amazingly, they now own seven AGHANYA stoves in their kitchen. The stoves are fully paid for, and the school’s monthly savings on fuel is Rs. 50,000 (USD $750.00).
These are numbers that matter to Ashok Kumar Sharma, Head Cook at the K.M. Blooming Higher Secondary School, in Khangabok, Thoubal, Manipur.
Noting the difference between their earlier, traditional chulhas and the PCS-12 AGHANYA, Sharma adds: “We save time when preparing our food. When we prepare larger quantities, there are no delays – service is faster. The stove is easy to start, our kitchen is cleaner because there is no smoke, and my cooks find they can comfortably cook as well. One of the key figures is fuel savings, which are 50 percent. This is a huge difference for us, and we are very happy with our investment.”
It’s wonderful to watch communities and schools partnering together to feed children in need. India will, over time, decrease its GHI rating even further. The AGHANYA is the perfect choice for school programs to manage both their budgets and their school lunches very effectively. We would be delighted to show you how. Please contact us at +91-8956443443 or firstname.lastname@example.org