Centre for Development Economics
Department of Economics, Delhi School of Economics


No Free Lunch: Using Technology to Improve the Efficacy of School Feeding Programs
(with Sheetal Sekhri)


Sisir Debnath
Indian School of Business, Hyderabad


6th Sept 2018 (Thursday) at 3:00 PM

Venue : Seminar Room (First Floor)
Department of Economics, Delhi School of Economics

All are cordially invited

Malnutrition among vulnerable children is often targeted using free school feeding programs in developing countries. This paper studies the role of technology in improving the delivery of school feeding programs. Using the roll-out of a mobile-based monitoring mechanism (Interactive Voice Response System or the IVRS) that aids in cross tallying the number of beneficiaries reported by multiple agents in the delivery chain, we find that increase in resulting accountability reduces leakages in school lunch provision in Bihar, India. We contrast provision of meals in districts of Bihar and its contiguous neighboring states from an independent survey with the official state records. Independently collected data reveals that the technology reform increases the likelihood of lunch provision in a school by 20 percentage points. These results are robust to a number of specifications. The increase in take-up is also accompanied by an improvement in the quality and quantity of meals. By contrast, using official state records, we find that likelihood of lunch provision by a school declined post-reform. Using trend break specifications and the independently collected data, we find that the reform resulted in a decrease in reported enrollment in schools and a substantial increase in attendance. Taken together, we interpret our findings to provide evidence that the IVRS resulted in the reduction in leakage in the school feeding program.