Chia, the high-energy grain of Mexican origin which has emerged as a ‘super food’ because of its rich protein content, can be the “most suitable substitute” to tobacco in the present context, said anti-tobacco activist Vasanthkumar Mysoremath on Wednesday.
Reacting to an article in The Hindu on how farmers are getting attracted to the crop, Mr. Mysoremath, who heads the Anti-Tobacco Forum (ATF), said many tobacco growers have switched over to Chia in the last couple of years.
The Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) played an important role in the endeavour, besides Raitha Mitra Farmers’ Producer Company Limited, he said.
“It’s time for the government to step in. If it offers the necessary help to expand Chia cultivation with infrastructure and marketing linkages, more farmers can embrace the crop, thereby fulfilling the commitment made by the country to reduce the extent of tobacco cultivation by 2020,” he said.
Mr. Mysoremath said he had joined a delegation comprising growers and officials from the departments of agriculture and horticulture, which visited the places in Mysuru district where Chia was grown, and had encouraged tobacco growers to switch over to the crop.
Consequently, some farmers in H.D. Kote, Periyapatna and Hunsur switched over to other crops, including Chia. Some have switched to crops like banana and papaya, he said. “Chia gives more returns than tobacco. Though the market is currently volatile, the market price of Chia is around Rs. 17,000 a quintal. The price was higher a few months ago, but the offer is still attractive. There is demand for Chia in countries like the United States. There are some issues that need to be sorted out on the quality front. But I believe farmers won’t look back.”
Help from universities
He said tobacco farmers were preparing themselves to reduce cultivation, but they are confused about to how to about it and what crop to choose as an alternative. He called upon agriculture and horticulture universities, including the University of Agricultural Sciences, to help them shift to alternative crops, including cotton, maize, cashew, banana, vegetables and cereals.
He said they should be given proper soil testing facilities, inputs like good seeds, fertilisers, insecticides and loans.
These efforts will go a long way in creating confidence in their mind and will encourage them to focus on growing food crops. “We can expect 50,000-60,000 hectares of scarce good soil, where tobacco is being cultivated now, to be used for ensuring food security,” he said.