Bihar launches pilot project for community cultivation of biofortified wheat, first in country
As part of the state agriculture department’s initiative to encourage farming of crops of high nutrition value and thereby tackle rampant malnutrition, about 1,800 farmers of Kukribigha village, located in the outskirt of Patna, would start cultivation of biofortified wheat in the upcoming rabi season.
Agriculture minister Prem Kumar launched the much talked about project at Kurkribigha, which has been selected as the first model village by the Rural Development Council (RDC) in the country to grow biofortified wheat, which contains a high proportion of zinc and other micronutrients.
The minister said that cultivation of biofortified wheat would also be launched at another village in Gaya, the minister’s home town, and formalities for community farming would complete soon.
“Production of biofortified grains would ensure highest value-for-money investments for economic prosperity of farmers,” he added.
Prevalence of Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the state to food and nutritional insecurity. The state has a 72.7 percent death rate, generally attributed to malnutrition in children ageing less than five years, as compared to the national average of 69.2 percent. This state-wide data on malnutrition was presented by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), and the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) last year.
Kumar said that farmers would get free of cost seeds, along with other farm input such as organic manure and mechanical tools to prepare the fields for farming and harvesting the crop. “Farming of biofortified wheat, maize and other cereals like paddy would be extended to other parts of the state upon successful completion of the pilot project in the two villages,” said the minister.
Citing a national-level study, the minister said children who ate high-zinc wheat, as chapatti or puri flatbread, or as porridge, experienced 17 percent fewer days with pneumonia and 39 percent fewer days vomiting, compared to children who consumed a lower zinc variety typical of conventional wheat.
“Mothers who ate high-zinc wheat spent 9 percent fewer days with fever,” said Kumar.
Bihar agriculture management extension training institute (Bameti), a state government institute, would provide necessary skill training to farmers for cultivation of biofortified wheat with technical support from Mahindra and Mahindra and other multinational organisation engaged in health and nutritional programmes.
An agricultural scientist of RDC said that zinc was an essential micronutrient, required for healthy growth and development. “Inadequate zinc intake can weaken the immune system, making children more vulnerable to infections and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, which are the two principal killers of children of this age around the world,” he explained.