Kinnow farmers in Punjab are expressing gratitude for the recent decision by the Punjab Mid-day Meal Society to replace bananas with locally grown seasonal fruits in the lunch menu for government school students.
The general manager of the Midday Meal Society communicated to school principals that they have the flexibility to purchase any seasonal fruit from their local area and provide it to students every Monday for the remaining days of the 4th quarter (January – March) of the 2023-24 academic year, with the order becoming effective on February 12.
Fazilka Deputy Commissioner Dr Senu Kapila Duggal, who raised the kinnow inclusion issue in a meeting with Deputy Commissioners and Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann on January 31, is pleased with the decision. Duggal encourages schools in Fazilka and nearby districts to prioritize kinnow, aiming to support local farmers amid declining kinnow prices.
Sukhmandar Singh, president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Rajewal- Fazilka district, appreciates the move, stating that this year’s bumper crop of kinnow is facing challenges due to buyers offering prices as low as 10 rupees per kilogram. In Punjab, kinnow is cultivated in approximately 47,000 hectares, with Abohar district alone contributing 35,000 hectares. Farmers are urging school principals to directly purchase kinnow from them, emphasizing that they receive only Rs 4 to Rs 10 per kilo, whereas bananas from other states are available in the market for Rs 30-40 or even more.
The farmers estimate that once the 19,120 government schools implement the order, nearly 19 lakh students up to Class 8 will consume around 40,000 quintals of kinnow per month. They propose that private schools, charging higher fees, include kinnow in their CSR activities by providing one fruit a week to students, potentially increasing consumption to 1 lakh quintals per month.
Darshan Singh, a member of BKU Rajewal, suggests that schools purchasing kinnow at Rs 15 per kilogram could create a win-win situation, providing a healthier and more cost-effective alternative to bananas. Gurpreet Singh, block president of BKU Rajewal, praises the decision and urges schools to buy kinnow exclusively from Punjab until March-end.
The Punjab government, which previously allocated Rs 5 per student for weekly banana purchases, plans to adjust the budget for the coming financial year to incorporate seasonal fruits. Varinder Singh Brar, general manager of the Punjab Mid-day Meal Society, assures that any budget changes will be communicated to school heads accordingly.
The teaching community, represented by Digvijay Pal Sharma, president of Democratic Teachers Front (DTF), Punjab, welcomes the decision to include seasonal fruits in the mid-day meal, emphasizing the need for further decentralization to allow districts to decide their own menus based on local produce availability.