Food-based approaches that address malnutrition, especially micronutrient deficiencies, have to be connected with the current agricultural production system
The world continues to suffer from hunger, poverty and a high prevalence of malnutrition, despite a phenomenal increase in food grains production all across the globe. Such a situation puts a serious question mark on our efforts towards ensuring food and nutritional security for all. The percentage of children suffering from stunting and wasting, and women with anemia and other health disorders are a result of serious lacunae in our dietary intake. The persistent malnutrition can be attributed to low dietary diversity, together with low production diversity.
Dietary diversity means a more healthy, balanced, and diverse diet, which ensures nutrient adequacy. The world is heading towards Sustainable Development Goals SDG 2030. Over half of the SDGs relate to global food security and nutrition and four are directly related to hunger. Food-based approaches that address malnutrition, especially micronutrient deficiencies, have to be connected with the current agricultural production system. One such approach is the cultivation of nutrient rich crops which once were cultivated over a large scale but over the years have been neglected and now fall in the category of neglected and underutilised or orphan crops.
Neglected and underutilised crops are terminologies used to describe domesticated plant species used in previous centuries for food, fibre, fodder, oil or medicinal benefits, but which have in recent times been reduced in importance and value for various reasons. Other terminologies used to describe these crops include: traditional, local, alternative, minor, orphan, abandoned, lost, niche, underused or underdeveloped, and in recent trends are often referred to as forgotten or smart foods. Reduction in their use has been partially due to supply or consumption related constraints, poor shelf life, unrecognised nutritional value, poor consumer awareness, and reputational perception as famine food, i.e., poor people’s food.
Some crops were so severely neglected that genetic erosion of their gene pool resulted in them becoming regarded as lost crops. Promising neglected and underutilised species are nutrient-dense, climate-resilient, profitable, and locally available/adaptable and a promising tool to do away with nutritional deficiencies of the population.
India owes its self-sufficiency in food grains production to the Green Revolution of the 1960s. The phenomenal increase in food grains production was largely due to the application of chemical fertilisers, increased irrigation network, high yielding seeds, plant protection measures and availability of human resources. The Green Revolution no doubt increased the food grains production in the country, but it had certain limitations. It was largely confined only to northern regions of the country like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. It only stressed on rice and wheat crops and thus led to the promotion of this monoculture, ignoring the rich floral and faunal diversity of the country. Pulse crops like Moong, Mash, Lentil, Peas, and Chickpea were completely ignored. In due course of time, in the quest of rice and wheat, many of the nutritious foods gradually lost their importance and were more or less abandoned. These crops were neglected and were underutilised; they also got little attention in terms of research and extension and international trade. These crops include millets like Jowar (Sorghum), Bajra (Pearl Millet), Ragi (Finger Millet), Jhangora (Barnyard Millet) and pseudo cereals like Amaranth and Buckwheat.
The millets are small-seeded grasses which are cultivated as grains and are grown largely on marginal dry and harsh lands. These traditional grains have lost out to modern agriculture. In Asia, India and China are two main producers of millets. Finger millet is one of the world’s oldest and most versatile grain.
The writer is Director Extension, SKUAST-KASHMIR