The recent spurt in interest over South American crops of Chia and Quinoa, branded as super foods, has triggered a debate among conservationists and agricultural scientists that indigenous dryland crops such as millet are being given a short-shrift.
While Chia is a Mexican variety crop, Quinoa is indigenous to South American countries besides parts of Asia and Africa. They claim to be effective against diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
The Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) has also endorsed these two crops and distributed the seeds to farmers for cultivation in and around Mysuru. But Sahaja Samrudha, an organisation propagating conservation of indigenous variety of crops, besides organic and natural farming, has taken exception to this. The general argument is that short-term gains are being ignored over long-term ramifications. G. Krishnaprasad of Sahaja Samrudha said all food systems evolve around local crops and cautioned against experimenting in the present time of climate change and erratic rainfall. A view also endorsed by agricultural scientists from Visvesvaraya Farm in Mandya. C.R. Ravishankar, who is part of the All-India Coordinated Research Project on Small Millets told The Hindu that the health benefits of millets are proven, but the crop was being ignored by farmers and the authorities in pursuit of commercial crops of the imported variety, which may have short-term benefits but pitfalls in the long run.
He said the national project on small millets is focussing on improving the yield of foxtail millet, kodo millet, proso millet, barnyard millet, little millet, and finger millet, which can be cultivated under extreme drought conditions. The craze for Chia and Quinoa will not last long and farmers will be in doldrums after a few seasons, said Mr. Ravishankar.
Foxtail millet and little millet were common in old Mysuru (Gundlupet, Nanjangud, Hassan, Nagamangala), while Kodo millet and Browntop millet was cultivated in Andhra Pradesh and known to be drought resistant, according to Mr. Krishnaprasad, who documents indigenous crops on the decline. “This tendency to revere all things imported is a colonial mindset,” he said and wanted the State government to introduce millets under the midday meal scheme and Anna Bhagya in view of their nutrition value, besides creating demand for these crops.
Agricultural scientists have developed a white variety of ragi that will be released in March this year. C.R. Ravishankar, who is associated with the All-India Coordinated Research Project on Small Millets, told The Hindu that a majority of the people have an aversion to ragi in view of its dark colour. Hence, scientists have developed a white variety. “It’s called KMR 340 and will be released in March,” he said. He hoped that ragi consumption would improve following the release of the white variety. It is rich in nutritional value, highly resistant to drought and can be cultivated in dryland areas, he said.“While developing the variety, we managed to remove the dark brown colour of the crop.” In view of its white colour, it can be blended with traditional culinary delights, including bakery items, and thus the nutritional intake of people may also go up, he said.