Small crops await big leap | Hindustan Times
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Small crops await big leap

Powered by the Green Revolution and strong government promotion, rice and wheat have pushed out smaller millets, a trend which, scientists say, is “dangerously changing India’s food fashion” and threatening biodiversity, reports Zia Haq.

delhi Updated: Dec 29, 2008 00:09 IST
Zia Haq

Powered by the Green Revolution and strong government promotion, rice and wheat have pushed out smaller millets, a trend which, scientists say, is “dangerously changing India’s food fashion” and threatening biodiversity.

“These millets are highly nutritious and provided affordable nourishment. Now, they are endangered,” said Rajya Sabha member MS Swaminathan, the man behind the Green Revolution. This is serious as these crops could face extinction.

In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, for instance, the foxtail millet — locally known as navane — was a staple until about 40 years ago. Now, it is a “poor man’s food”. Policy-makers have contributed to this neglect by keeping them outside the R&D and purview of support prices.

An international effort by the Biodiversity International and MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) now aims to bring these crops back. Swaminathan said India needed to undertake a “major revamp” of four minor millets — finger millet, foxtail millet, little millet and barnyard millet — apart from the grain, Amaranth. They are mostly grown in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh.

Crucial crops

These grains are crucial to India’s food security, scientists say, as they are high in essential nutrients. “These crops are grown by marginal communities, possessing indigenous knowledge on these crops. They are consumed largely under traditional practices,” said S. Bala Ravi, biodiversity adviser of the MSSRF. According to the director of the US’s Agricultural Research Bureau, Richard Goodman, if “Indian people stop cultivating these local crops they will become extinct”.

Saving the grains

In 33 villages across four states of India, the MSSRF has started a project called ‘Neglected and Underutilised Crops’ to save the grains. In Tamil Nadu’s Kuchakirayapatti village, a group of 12 farmers received interest-free loans from the MSSRF to set up a millet mill.

According to Bala Ravi, the future of the food lies in urban India. The MSSRF’s focus now is to help produce lucrative health food products like malt, biscuits, sweets and snacks.

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